Paris, Mar 26 (AP/UNB) — Chinese President Xi Jinping is meeting with the leaders of France, Germany and the European Commission, as European countries seek to boost relations with China while also putting pressure over its trade practices.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel and European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker came to Paris to join Xi and French President Emmanuel Macron for Tuesday's meeting. The leaders are notably preparing for a crucial EU-China summit.
Tuesday's meeting is a key moment in Xi's European tour, which has involved huge business contracts, including one of the biggest deals ever for European plane maker Airbus.
Xi also received the full honors of a formal reception in the French presidential palace Monday night.
The EU is China's biggest trade partner and wants to solidify that relationship.
Bangkok, Mar 26 (AP/UNB) — The two top parties began angling for the upper hand in forming a new government in Thailand on Monday after partial results showed no group won a majority of seats in the country's first national election since a 2014 military coup.
One outcome: many accusations of cheating in Sunday's vote, in efforts to discredit the other side's claim to leadership and perhaps get some winners disqualified.
The allegations highlight continuing deep divisions in Thailand, which has been wracked by political instability for nearly two decades.
The junta-appointed Election Commission announced the results of 350 constituency races but said full vote counts, which are needed to allocate 150 other seats in the House of Representatives, won't be available until Friday after apparent counting problems.
The partial results showed the military-backed Palang Pracharath party won the most popular votes nationwide. But under a complicated new electoral system put in place by the junta, the anti-military Pheu Thai party is likely to win the highest number of seats in the House.
Each party insists its advantage gives it the right to try to form a government, though neither holds a majority in terms of votes or seats. And because an unelected 250-member Senate appointed by the junta will also vote for prime minister, a party must win a combined 376 votes to assure victory.
That vote will likely take place sometime in May and give Palang Pracharath's candidate, current junta Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha, a considerable advantage.
The election is the latest chapter in a nearly two-decade struggle pitching conservative forces including the military, courts and ultra-royalists against the political machine of former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, a tycoon who upended tradition-bound Thai politics with a populist political revolution and is now despised by the military.
Thaksin now lives in exile abroad to avoid a prison term, but parties allied with him have won every election since 2001 despite repeated efforts by the military and courts to block his influence. His sister, Yingluck Shinawatra, who led the Pheu Thai government that was ousted in 2014, also fled the country after what supporters said was a politically motivated prosecution.
While behind-the-scenes recruitment of smaller parties is the main way for Palang Pracharath or Pheu Thai to try to gain enough support to form a government, the public battle is being fought with cries of foul on social media, mostly from Pheu Thai partisans.
Although formal ties between Thaksin and Pheu Thai are now legally banned, he amplified the accusations of foul play in an op-ed in The New York Times on Monday.
His complaints included inconsistent and delayed results from the Election Commission, ballot numbers exceeding voters in some areas, turnouts twice the number of registered voters, and a suspiciously large number of voided ballots.
Thailand's main poll-watching organizations have not yet publicly addressed most of the allegations.
The watchdog group P-Net charged that the junta-appointed Election Commission was inefficient, and that it had found vote buying ahead of the voting.
But there is concern about the other allegations.
Allen Hicken, professor of political science at the University of Michigan, noted that while Thaksin's words read as "sour grapes," the allegations have been circulating widely.
He said he considered the three most troubling issues to be the delayed result announcements, turnouts exceeding 100 percent and a large number of invalid ballots.
Hicken said he would withhold judgment pending explanations by the Election Commission, "but all three are consistent with electoral chicanery in other contexts."
The commission's secretary-general, Charoongwit Poomma, defended its handling of Sunday's vote and said delays in announcing full results reflect its duty to ensure the election is free and fair. He said he had not received reports of issues such as excessive voting numbers or disappearing votes.
The cheating charges come on top of the judgment by many human rights and pro-democracy groups that the rules set by the junta made a fair election impossible.
Palang Pracharath chief Uttama Savanayana said it will contact like-minded parties to form a new government.
The leader of Pheu Thai, Sudarat Keyuraphan, also said it would try to form a government because it won the most constituency races.
"The party with the most seats is the one that has received the confidence from the people to set up the government," Sudarat said.
New Delhi, Mar 25 (AP/UNB) — The chairman of India's private Jet Airways has quit amid mounting financial woes which have forced it to suspend 14 international routes and ground more than 80 planes.
A statement by the airline says its board on Monday accepted the resignations of Chairman Naresh Goyal, his wife and a nominee of Gulf carrier Etihad Airways from the board. It said Goyal will also cease to be chairman.
Goyal has been trying to obtain new funding from Etihad Airways, which holds a 24 percent stake in the airline, which was founded 27 years ago.
The statement said the airline will receive 15 billion rupees ($217 million) in immediate funding under a recovery plan formulated by its creditors.
Bangkok, Mar 24 (AP/UNB) — Nearly five years after a coup, Thailand voted Sunday in a long-delayed election setting a military-backed party against the populist political force the generals overthrew.
Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha, the blunt-speaking army chief who led the 2014 coup, is hoping to extend his hold on power after engineering a new political system that aims to stifle the influence of big political parties not aligned with the military.
Voting stations closed at 5 p.m. and meaningful results were expected within several hours, but the formation of a new government could take weeks of haggling.
About 51 million Thais were eligible to vote. Leaders of political parties opposed to military rule urged a high turnout as the only way to derail Prayuth's plans.
Prayuth was among the first to vote in Bangkok, the capital, arriving in a black Mercedes after polling booths opened at 8 a.m.
"I hope everyone helps each other by going to vote today as it's everyone's right," he told reporters after voting. He played golf later in the morning before heading to an army base to await results.
The election is the latest chapter in a nearly two-decade struggle between conservative forces including the military and the political machine of former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, a tycoon who upended tradition-bound Thailand's politics with a populist political revolution.
Thaksin was ousted in a 2006 military coup and now lives in exile abroad to avoid a prison term, but parties allied with him have won every election since 2001. His sister, Yingluck Shinawatra, who led the government that was ousted in 2014, also fled the country after what supporters said was a politically motivated corruption prosecution.
After the coup, political party gatherings were banned and pro-democracy activists and other dissenters were regularly arrested, interrogated and imprisoned. Just days before Sunday's election, the Thaksin-allied Pheu Thai party said the houses of party officials and its campaign canvassers in some provinces were searched by military personnel in an act of intimidation.
The party's leader, Sudarat Keyuraphan, said after voting in Bangkok's Ladprao district that she was confident of winning.
"I don't say it'll be a landslide. I don't know. Depends on the people. But I think we can win this election," she said.
Thailand's powerful King Maha Vajiralongkorn issued a statement on the eve of the election that said the role of leaders is to stop "bad people" from gaining power and causing chaos. It was also broadcast on Thai television stations minutes before voting started.
Invoking a speech by his father, the previous Thai king who died in 2016 after reigning for seven decades, Vajiralongkorn said not all citizens can be transformed into good people so leaders must be given support in ruling to create a peaceful nation.
He urged government officials, soldiers and civil servants to look after national security.
It was the monarch's second notable intervention in politics recently. Last month, he demanded his sister Princess Ubolratana Mahidol withdraw as a prime ministerial candidate for a small Thaksin-allied party within 24 hours of her announcement.
First-time voter Napasapan Wongchotipan said she hopes for positive changes after the election.
"I have no idea what the results will be like," she said. "But I do wish that the party that we will get, the party that wins the votes, will come in and improve our country."
Thais were voting for a 500-seat parliament that along with a 250-member junta-appointed Senate will decide the country's next prime minister. That setup means a military-backed figure such as Prayuth could become leader even while lacking a majority in parliament.
"The biggest challenge of this election is whether it will mark the beginning of a transitional democracy in Thailand. I hope to see that, but it seems to be a very dimmed hope," said Siripan Nogsuan Sawasdee, a political scientist at Bangkok's Chulalongkorn University.
"It might end up with the election being used as a façade for a new authoritarian ruler or we might end up with another round of conflicts and polarization," she said.
Political parties and their main leaders held their final major rallies on Friday evening in Bangkok.
Sudarat said Pheu Thai would fight to overcome constitutional hurdles erected against it by Prayuth's regime.
"In 2014, they took power with the barrel of a gun, by a coup," she said. "In 2019, they are trying to take away the people's power again through crooked regulations under the constitution."
When it seized power in 2014, the military said it was to end political unrest that had periodically turned violent and disrupted daily life and the economy. The claim has been one of the few selling points for the gruff Prayuth, who according to critics has overseen a period of growing inequality and economic hardship in Thailand.
"I want things to improve," Narate Wongthong said after voting. "We had too many conflicts in the past and I want to see lots of people come out and vote."
New Delhi, March 23 (Xinhua/UNB)- Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi wrote a letter to his Pakistani counterpart Imran Khan, greeting him on the occasion of Pakistan's national day, confirmed an official source in the Indian external affairs ministry on Saturday.
Pakistan's national day is celebrated every year on March 23.
Received msg from PM Modi: "I extend my greetings & best wishes to the people of Pakistan on the National Day of Pakistan. It is time that ppl of Sub-continent work together for a democratic, peaceful, progressive & prosperous region, in an atmosphere free of terror and violence"— Imran Khan (@ImranKhanPTI) March 22, 2019
"Prime minister sends customary message on national days to other heads of state or government. His message to Prime Minister Imran Khan highlighted the importance of a terror free Asia," said the official source.
Imran Khan also tweeted about receiving message from Modi. "Received message from PM Modi: 'I extend my greetings and best wishes to the people of Pakistan on the National Day of Pakistan. It is time that people of sub-continent work together for a democratic, peaceful, progressive and prosperous region, in an atmosphere free of terror and violence.'"
The letter assumes significance in the wake of escalating tension between the two countries since February.