Toronto, Dec 22 (AP/UNB) — Canada moved away from diplomatic caution on Friday and made its first formal demand for China to immediately release two Canadians who have been detained in apparent retaliation for Canada's arrest of a top Chinese tech executive.
The U.S., the U.K. and the EU also issued statements in support of Canada.
"We are deeply concerned by the arbitrary detention by Chinese authorities of two Canadians earlier this month and call for their immediate release," Canadian Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland said.
A senior government official said China's ambassador to Canada was called on Friday and told of Canada's demand. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because of lack of authorization to discuss the call publicly.
Meng Wanzhou, chief financial officer of Chinese telecommunications giant Huawei, was arrested in Canada on Dec. 1 at the request of the United States, which wants her extradited to face charges that she and her company misled banks about the company's business dealings in Iran.
Nine days later, the Chinese detained Canadian ex-diplomat Michael Kovrig and Canadian entrepreneur Michael Spavor on vague allegations of "engaging in activities that endanger the national security" of China.
Freeland's declaration marked a harder tone from Canadian officials. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau had been criticized by the opposition for what they called unacceptable reticence over his suggestion Wednesday that raising demands for their release would be akin to "to stomping on the table" without achieving their release.
Freeland said that that Canada is honoring its extradition treaty with the United States and said it's conducting a fair and transparent legal proceeding with respect to Meng.
U.S. State Department spokesman Robert Palladino also reiterated that Canada is honoring its extradition treaty commitments.
"We also express our deep concern for the Chinese Government's detention of two Canadians earlier this month and call for their immediate release," Palladino said. U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo also called for their release last week.
U.K. Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt said in a statement the U.K. is confident that Canada is respecting its extradition treaty with the U.S. and said he is "deeply concerned" that China may have detained the two Canadians for political reasons.
The EU, meanwhile, issued a statement saying, "The declared motive for the arrest and detention of Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor, both Canadian nationals, raises concerns about legitimate research and business practices in China."
Freeland thanked allies for speaking out and said Canada won't compromise or nor politicize the rule of law. "It is the bedrock of democracy," she said.
The show of support from allies is significant for Canada, which has felt relatively isolated in recent months, particularly following U.S. President Donald Trump's criticism of Trudeau and his lack of public support.
In August, Saudi Arabia expelled Canada's ambassador to the kingdom and withdrew its own ambassador after Canada's foreign ministry tweeted support for an arrested Saudi activist. The Saudis also sold Canadian investments and ordered their citizens studying in Canada to leave.
No country, including the U.S., spoke out publicly in support of Canada, and the Trump administration has been steadfast in its support for Saudi Arabia.
New Delhi, Dec 21 (AP/UNB) — An Indian government order authorizing some federal investigating agencies to intercept any information stored on computers triggered a strong protest Friday in Parliament, with opposition lawmakers describing it as an assault on privacy rights.
The opposition parties demanded an immediate withdrawal of the Home Ministry order issued a day earlier. They fear it would give unlimited powers to 10 government agencies to intercept, monitor and decrypt any information generated, transmitted, received or stored on any computer.
Ravi Shankar Prasad, India's minister for law and justice and information technology, rejected the allegation and said there are adequate safeguards to prevent its misuse. Prasad said using the order would require authorization from the ministry's top bureaucrat.
Congress party chief Rahul Gandhi said on Twitter: "The order would convert India into a police state."
Finance Minister Arun Jaitley said the law already provides the power to intercept data in the interest of national security and public order. The new order just identifies investigating agencies authorized to do so, Jaitley said.
"How else will terrorists who use technology extensively be traced? Otherwise, the terrorists will use IT (information technology), but the intelligence and investigative agencies will be crippled," Jaitley said.
Pawan Duggal, a cyber expert and a Supreme Court lawyer, said the opposition concerns appeared to be genuine and the government needed to have stringent checks and balances to prevent misuse of the new order.
Duggal also said India's Supreme Court recognized last year that privacy is a fundamental right and it could not be tampered with.
Karachi, Dec 21 (AP/UNB)— A Pakistani court has extended temporary bail for former president Asif Ali Zardari and his sister in a multimillion-dollar money laundering case amid increasing political turmoil.
Zardari, currently a member of the lower house of Parliament, and his sister Faryal Talpur, who is also a politician, are accused of having dozens of bogus bank accounts. Their bail was extended until Jan. 7.
Friday's development comes a day after the ruling Tehreek-e-Insaf party submitted a petition to Pakistan's elections oversight body seeking Zardari's disqualification from office for concealing his foreign property from tax authorities.
Zardari has denied any wrongdoing.
Zardari's opposition Pakistan People's Party has also said it will seek disqualification of Prime Minister Imran Khan for concealing his assets.
Seoul, Dec 20 (AP/UNB) — North Korea said Thursday it will never unilaterally give up its nuclear weapons unless the United States first removes what Pyongyang called a nuclear threat. The surprisingly blunt statement jars with Seoul's rosier presentation of the North Korean position and could rattle the fragile trilateral diplomacy to defuse a nuclear crisis that last year had many fearing war.
The latest from North Korea comes as the United States and North Korea struggle over the sequencing of the denuclearization that Washington wants and the removal of international sanctions desired by Pyongyang. The statement carried by the North's official Korean Central News Agency also raises credibility problems for the liberal South Korean government, which has continuously claimed that North Korean leader Kim Jong Un is genuinely interested in negotiating away his nuclear weapons as Seoul tries to sustain a positive atmosphere for dialogue.
The North's comments may also be seen as proof of what outside skeptics have long said: that Kim will never voluntarily relinquish an arsenal he sees as a stronger guarantee of survival than whatever security assurances the United States might provide. The statement suggests North Korea will eventually demand the United States withdraw or significantly reduce the 28,500 American troops stationed in South Korea, a major sticking point in any disarmament deal.
Kim and President Donald Trump met June 12 in Singapore where they agreed on a vague goal for the "complete denuclearization" of the Korean Peninsula without describing when and how it would occur. The leaders are trying to arrange another meeting for early next year.
But North Korea for decades has been pushing a concept of denuclearization that bears no resemblance to the American definition, with Pyongyang vowing to pursue nuclear development until the United States removes its troops and the nuclear umbrella defending South Korea and Japan. In Thursday's statement, the North made clear it's sticking to its traditional stance on denuclearization. It accused Washington of twisting what had been agreed on in Singapore and driving post-summit talks into an impasse.
"The United States must now recognize the accurate meaning of the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula, and especially, must study geography," the statement said.
"When we talk about the Korean Peninsula, it includes the territory of our republic and also the entire region of (South Korea) where the United States has placed its invasive force, including nuclear weapons. When we talk about the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula, it means the removal of all sources of nuclear threat, not only from the South and North but also from areas neighboring the Korean Peninsula," the statement said.
The United States removed its tactical nuclear weapons from South Korea in the 1990s. Washington and Seoul did not immediately respond to the North Korean statement.
North Korea's reiteration of its long-standing position on denuclearization could prove to be a major setback for diplomacy, which was revived early this year following a series of provocative nuclear and missile tests that left Kim and Trump spending most of 2017 exchanging personal insults and war threats. The statement could jeopardize a second Trump-Kim summit as the United States may have difficulty negotiating further if the North ties the future of its nukes to the U.S. military presence in the South, analysts said.
South Korean President Moon Jae-in, who met Kim three times this year and lobbied hard for the Trump-Kim meeting, has said Kim wasn't demanding the withdrawal of U.S. troops from the Korean Peninsula as a precondition for abandoning his nuclear weapons. But Kim has never made such comments in public.
"The blunt statement could be an indicator that the North has no intentions to return to the negotiation table anytime soon," said Shin Beomchul, a senior analyst at Seoul's Asan Institute for Policy Studies. "It's clear that the North intends to keep its nukes and turn the diplomatic process into a bilateral arms reduction negotiation with the United States, rather than a process where it unilaterally surrenders its program."
Yang Moo-jin, a professor at Seoul's University of North Korean Studies, said it's unlikely that the North would push things too far and allow the momentum for dialogue to collapse. Pyongyang has been strengthening its demands for the removal of sanctions and its latest statement is another attempt to win concessions from Washington, Yang said.
"Pyongyang is sending a message to Washington that confrontation and dialogue cannot coexist," Yang said.
The nuclear negotiations between Washington and Pyongyang have stalled since the Trump-Kim meeting. The United States wants North Korea to provide a detailed account of nuclear and missile facilities that would be inspected and dismantled under a potential deal, while the North is insisting that sanctions be lifted first.
Since engaging in diplomacy, North Korea has unilaterally dismantled its nuclear testing ground and parts of a missile engine test facility and suspended nuclear and long-range missile tests. However, none of those moves were verified by outsiders, and most experts say they fall short as material steps toward denuclearization. In the third meeting between Kim and Moon in September, the North also said it would dismantle its main nuclear facility in Nyongbyon if the United States takes "corresponding measures," which the state media later specified as sanctions relief.
Kim declared his nuclear force was complete after the torrent of weapons tests in 2017, including the detonation of a purported thermonuclear weapon and three test-flights of intercontinental ballistic missiles potentially capable of reaching the U.S. mainland. Several reports from private analysts in recent weeks have accused North Korea of continuing nuclear and missile development, citing details from commercial satellite imagery.
"If we unilaterally give up our nuclear weapons without any security assurance despite being first on the U.S. list of targets for pre-emptive nuclear strikes, that wouldn't be denuclearization — it would rather be a creation of a defenseless state where the balance in nuclear strategic strength is destroyed and the crisis of a nuclear war is brought forth," the KCNA said.
"The corresponding measures we have asked the United States to take aren't difficult for the United States to commit to and carry out. We are just asking the United States to put an end to its hostile policies (on North Korea) and remove the unjust sanctions, things it can do even without a snap of a finger."
The North Korean statement came a day after Stephen Biegun, the Trump administration's special envoy on North Korea, told reporters in South Korea that Washington was reviewing easing travel restrictions on North Korea to facilitate humanitarian shipments to help resolve the impasse in nuclear negotiations.
During his four-day visit, Biegun plans to discuss with South Korean officials the allies' policies on North Korea, including the enforcement of sanctions. The meetings are likely to include conversations about a groundbreaking ceremony the Koreas plan to hold at the border village of Panmunjom next week for an aspirational project to reconnect their roads and railways.
The North has yet to respond to Biegun's comments.
Nepal, Dec 20 (AP/UNB) — Nepal's government has stopped eight Italian contractors from leaving the Himalayan country in an effort to complete a critical but much delayed water supply project for the capital.
Nepalese officials and the Italian contractors met again on Wednesday, but no agreement was reached, said Ministry of Water Supplies spokesman Shankar Prasad Subedi.
A statement from the ministry said the eight contractors from the Italian company Cooperativa Muratori Cementisti Ravenna are being kept under strict surveillance by the authorities in Kathmandu because they had information that the contractors might be attempting to leave Nepal.
Nepalese officials are worried that contractors from the financially troubled company may attempt to flee, leaving the project unfinished.
Officials speaking on condition of anonymity because they are not authorized to speak to reporters said airport immigration authorities have been instructed to not allow them to leave the country. However, no official notice has been issued for the prohibition.
The Italians have been working on the project for the past four years, but the Melamchi Drinking Water project is nearly 2 decades old. It is supposed to bring drinking water to Kathmandu, the capital, where households have water for only two hours every five days.
The project has been delayed due to political instability in Nepal, as well as a devastating 2015 earthquake. A monthslong economic blockade by India leading to severe shortages of fuel and construction materials also brought the project to a halt.
Nepal is mostly covered with mountains that have rivers, but Kathmandu faces a severe water problem. Most residents there have to depend on water trucks to bring water to their homes.
The Melamchi project is being constructed through funding from the Asian Development Bank and the Japanese government.