Report: Japan Emperor Abdication Set for March 2019

Japan’s Emperor Akihito will step down on March 31, 2019 and the Crown Prince is expected to ascend the throne in April, a report said Friday, the first imperial retirement in more than two centuries.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe will meet top officials and members of the royal household next month before announcing the date, the Asahi Shimbun newspaper reported, citing unnamed government sources.

Akihito’s eldest son, 57-year-old Crown Prince Naruhito, will ascend the Chrysanthemum Throne the next day on April 1, the paper said.

The popular 83-year-old Akihito shocked the country last year when he signalled his desire to take a back seat after nearly three decades, citing his age and health problems.

There have been abdications in Japan’s long imperial history, but the last one was more than 200 years ago.

In June, the parliament passed a rule allowing the ageing emperor to step down but the Asahi report is the first time a precise date for the abdication has been mooted.

“It is an immeasurable relief to me that his majesty … can now have days of rest as he reaches an advanced age,” Empress Michiko, who turned 83 Friday, said in a statement.

The abdication law, which applies only to Akihito and not to future emperors, included a resolution to debate letting female royals stay in the imperial family after marriage but did not touch on the controversial topic of allowing women to inherit.

Japan’s top government spokesman denied the Asahi report on Friday.

“We are not aware of the report and there is not such fact,” Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga told a news conference.

“We will continue to discuss appropriately and will do our best to carry out the emperor’s abdication smoothly,” he said.

Syrian Man Arrested in Greece Over Suspected ISIS Links

ISIS

A 32-year-old Syrian man was arrested Thursday in the northeastern Greek city of Alexandroupolis over suspected links with terrorist group ISIS, police said Friday.

The arrest came following a complaint that was his wife filed against him over domestic abuse, according to the police. She also told authorities that her husband was an ISIS supporter.

The man, who was not named, is expected to stand before a state prosecutor on Friday, police said.

The couple currently live with their two young children in the northern city of Thessaloniki.

They had requested asylum in northern Greece in June 2016, landing on the island of Leros following the peak of the migrant crisis.

A police official stated that the man was arrested for violating a restriction order imposed after his wife accused him of beating her and taking part in “terrorist acts.”

Police searched their home following his wife’s complaint and found data on his phone that they said support the allegations of ISIS links, a police official said, according to AFP.

“We are investigating his participation, and its extent, in past terrorist acts outside Greece,” police added.

UNICEF: Rohingya Refugee Children in Bangladesh Face ‘Hell on Earth’

Nearly 340,000 Rohingya children are seeing a “hell on earth” by living in squalid conditions in Bangladesh camps where they lack enough food, clean water and health care, the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) said on Friday.

Up to 12,000 more children join them every week, fleeing violence or hunger in Myanmar, often still traumatised by atrocities they witnessed, UNICEF said in a report “Outcast and Desperate.”

In all, almost 600,000 Rohingya refugees have left northern Rakhine state since Aug. 25 when the UN says the Myanmar army began a campaign of “ethnic cleansing.”

“This isn’t going to be a short-term, it isn’t going to end anytime soon,” Simon Ingram, the report’s author and a UNICEF official, told a news briefing in Geneva.

“These children just feel so abandoned, so completely remote, and without a means of finding support or help. In a sense, it’s no surprise that they must truly see this place as a hell on earth,” Ingram said.

The report comes ahead of a donor conference Monday in Geneva to drum up funding for the Rohingya.

The UN and humanitarian agencies seek $434 million for the Rohingya refugees — about one-sixth of which would go to UNICEF efforts to help children.

“Many Rohingya refugee children in Bangladesh have witnessed atrocities in Myanmar no child should ever see, and all have suffered tremendous loss,” UNICEF Executive Director Anthony Lake said in a statement.

UN agencies are still demanding access to northern Rakhine, where an unknown number of Rohingya remain despite UN
reports that many villages and food stocks have been burned.

“We repeat the call for the need for protection of all children in Rakhine state, this is an absolute fundamental
requirement. The atrocities against children and civilians must end,” Ingram said.

“We just must keep putting it on the record, we cannot keep silent,” he added.

Putin: Russia Hopes to Broaden Cooperation with US

Russian President Vladimir Putin said on Thursday he hoped Moscow could cooperate with Washington in a broader range of fields.

“We have dialogue at the work level and on the level of the special services, the defense ministries, the foreign ministries. We achieve joint results,” Putin said at a forum with scholars. “We have to expand our cooperation to other spheres.”

Putin also said that Moscow was not concerned about a US military build-up in the Baltic region.

“We are analyzing it, watching this closely. Every one of their steps are known and clear to us,” Putin said at a forum with scholars. “This doesn’t worry us. Let them train there, everything is under control.”

Commenting on the chances of closing of Russia’s borders with rebel regions in eastern Ukraine, Putin said it would result in a “Srebrenica-like massacre”, referring to the mass killing of Muslims during the 1992-95 Bosnian War.

He said Europe was to blame for the Ukraine crisis and that only European powers could act to change the situation.

Putin added that the International Olympic Committee (IOC) was being pressured by the US to prevent Russia from taking part in the 2018 Pyeongchang Winter Olympics.

“We are seeing that the IOC is under strong pressure,” Putin said at a forum with scholars.

“It relies on advertisers, television channels, sponsors, and so on. And these sponsors are receiving unambiguous signals from certain American institutions.”

British Intelligence Investigates Over 500 Cases of Terrorism

MI5 Director General Parker speech in London

London- The United Kingdom’s intelligence services are facing an “intense” challenge from terrorism, the head of MI5 has warned.

He noted that Britain is running more than 500 live operations targeting 3,000 individuals involved in extremist activity in some way with 20,000 more, who have been on the counter-terrorism radar and others who are not even known to law agencies.

Director General of MI5 Andrew Parker said there was currently “more terrorist activity coming at us, more quickly” and that it can also be “harder to detect”.

Speaking in London, Parker said the tempo of counter-terrorism operations was the highest he had seen in his 34-year career at MI5.

The UK has suffered five terror attacks this year, and he said MI5 staff had been “deeply affected” by them.

Twenty attacks had been foiled in the last four years, including seven in the last seven months, Parker revealed, adding that all were related to what he called Islamist extremism.

Britain has experienced five attacks using knives, cars and bombs since the beginning of 2017, four in London and one in Manchester.

Twenty major acts have been detected in the past four years and 379 suspects have been arrested in the first six months of this year, Parker stressed.

Parker recalled that he had said in a speech two years ago that despite a string of successful operations he feared “that we had not yet reached the high-water mark”.

He said Tuesday: “Sadly that has proved to be the case. Islamist terrorism is an acute and enduring challenge that requires a sustained and comprehensive approach.”

The internet has provided terrorists with access and immediacy. “They can go online to get explosives and learn how to build a bomb”, said the director general.

As a result, they can “accelerate from inception to planning to action in just a handful of days, exploiting safe space online which can make it harder to detect and gives us a smaller window to intervene”.

MI5 is under pressure to demonstrate its effectiveness after four Islamist terrorist attacks escaped its detection this year.

Parker’s speech to specialist security journalists on Tuesday was his chance to frame the debate about Britain’s battle against Islamist terrorism at a time when the agency’s staff numbers are already expanding from 4,000 to 5,000, according to The Guardian.

This month the government will receive reports on whether chances to thwart the atrocities were missed and what lessons could be learned.

Ministers and the National Security Council wanted independent oversight of the review, in essence not allowing MI5 or counter-terrorism police to assess themselves.

Oversight is being provided by the barrister David Anderson QC, a former government appointment as independent reviewer of terrorism legislation.

Madrid Threatens Catalonia with Direct Rule amid Independence Bid

Spain’s central government threatened Thursday it will press ahead with suspending Catalonia’s autonomy after the region’s leader Carles Puigdemont warned he may declare independence.

The central government in Madrid had given Puigdemont until 10:00 am (0800 GMT) on Thursday to say whether or not he was declaring a breakaway state in the semi-autonomous region following the referendum on October 1.

Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy had warned he would trigger Article 155 of Spain’s constitution — a never-before-used measure allowing it to impose direct rule over the northeastern region — unless the separatist leader backed down.

There are fears that such a move, allowing the government to potentially suspend Puigdemont’s government and take over its police force, could spark unrest in the region.

Puigdemont responded Thursday that Catalan lawmakers could vote to declare secession unilaterally if Madrid triggers Article 155.

“If the central government persists in preventing dialogue and continuing repression, Catalonia’s parliament could proceed… to vote for a formal declaration of independence,” he wrote in a letter to Rajoy, adding that a cryptic “suspended” independence declaration he issued last week did not amount to breaking away.

The government hit back by saying it intends to push on with triggering Article 155 — a process that would take several days — to “restore legality” in the region.

In an unprecedented move since Spain returned to democracy in the late 1970s, Rajoy called an emergency cabinet meeting for Saturday to specify how it will take control over the region.

Haley Urges UN to Confront Iran’s ‘Destructive Conduct’

London- US Ambassador Nikki Haley urged the UN Security Council on Wednesday to adopt the Trump administration’s comprehensive approach to Iran and address all aspects of its “destructive conduct” — not just the 2015 nuclear deal.

She told the council that Iran “has repeatedly thumbed its nose” at council resolutions aimed at addressing Iranian support for terrorism and regional conflicts and has illegally supplied weapons to armed groups in Yemen and Hezbollah in Syria and Lebanon.

Haley cited a long list of Iranian violations, including threatening freedom of navigation, cyberattacks, imprisonment of journalists and other foreigners, and abuses of its people by persecuting some religions.

According to the Associated Press, she called Iran’s most threatening act its repeated ballistic missile launches.

“This should be a clarion call to everyone in the United Nations,” Haley said, warning that when Tehran starts down the path of ballistic missiles, “we will soon have another North Korea on our hands.”

Haley said the Security Council has the opportunity to change its policy toward Iran.

“I sincerely hope it will take this chance to defend not only the resolutions but peace, security and human rights in Iran,” she said.

“Judging Iran by the narrow confines of the nuclear deal misses the true nature of the threat,” Haley stressed. “Iran must be judged in totality of its aggressive, destabilizing and unlawful behavior.”

Kuwait Representative Expels Israeli Delegation at Inter-Parliamentary Union Meeting in Russia

Kuwait’s Speaker Marzouq Al-Ghanem

Kuwait- The head of the Kuwait’s National Assembly, Marzouq Al-Ghanem, lashed out at the Israeli Knesset delegation at the closing session of the Inter-Parliamentary Union Conference held in the Russian city of St. Petersburg, which forced the delegation to leave the hall.

In front of delegations from more than 150 countries, Ghanem described the Israeli mission as “the occupier and the murderer of children”. He asked it to leave the conference room because of Israel’s violation of international law and the continued detention of Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails.

“You should grab your bags and leave this hall as you have witnessed the reaction of every honorable parliament around the world,” he said, addressing the Israeli delegation.

“Leave now if you have one ounce of dignity, you occupier, you murderer of children.” The Israeli delegation left the talks following the remarks by Ghanem and several other parliaments in the midst of applause.

The Inter-Parliamentary Union Conference kicked off its work on October 14 and ended on Wednesday.

Delegates representing 150 countries, including 100 speakers, 70 deputy speakers and 2,300 guests, including 840 parliamentarians, attended the conference under the theme of promoting multiculturalism and peace through interfaith and interreligious dialogue.

The Inter-Parliamentary Union gathers 173 Member Parliaments and 11 Associate Members. It works closely with the United Nations and other partner organizations that share common goals.

Established in 1889 and based in Geneva, Switzerland, the Union is primarily financed by its members through public funds.

Four permanent committees operate within the framework of the Inter-Parliamentary Union, including the Permanent Committee on International Peace and Security, the Committee on Democracy and Human Rights, the Committee on United Nations Affairs and the Committee on Sustainable Development, Trade and Finance.

Khamenei: We Will Shred ‘Nuclear Deal’ if Trump Tears it Apart

London – Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei said on Wednesday Tehran would commit to its 2015 nuclear deal with international powers as long as the US Congress did not impose sanctions against his country.

However, he threatened to “shred” the agreement if the United States pulled out, state TV reported.

Khamenei’s remarks came five days after US President Donald Trump decertified the Iranian nuclear deal, asking the Congress to address the “many serious flaws” in the international agreement.

“I am directing my administration to work closely with Congress and our allies to address the deal’s many serious flaws,” Trump warned.

“In the event, we are not able to reach a solution working with Congress and our allies, then the agreement will be terminated.”

In his first response to Trump, Khamenei said: “I don’t want to waste our time to respond to the rants and whoppers of the foul-throated president of the United States.”

“If the US tears up the deal, we will shred it… Everyone should know that once again America will receive a slap in its mouth and will be defeated by Iranians,” the Iranian leader added.

Although Khamenei expressed his relief with the position of the European Union countries in support of the nuclear agreement, he said that it not enough to tell Trump not to tear up the agreement.

“European states stressed their backing for the deal and condemned Trump … We welcomed this, but it is not enough to ask Trump not to rip up the agreement. Europe needs to stand against practical measures (taken) by America,” he stated.

Following a closed-door meeting on Monday, EU foreign ministers appealed to the US Congress to maintain the nuclear deal with Iran and avoid a return to the sanctions option.

“This agreement is necessary for the security of the region,” EU Foreign Policy Chief Federica Mogherini said, without elaborating on the role the EU could play in countering Iran’s regional activities.

In a joint statement, Paris, London, and Berlin have also expressed concern about the “repercussions on the security of the United States and its allies” that would result from the actions demanded by Trump.

In decertifying the nuclear deal last week, Trump gave the US Congress 60 days to decide whether to impose economic sanctions on Tehran, which were lifted under the 2015 agreement.

During their meeting on Monday, EU foreign ministers also discussed the need to dismantle Iran’s missile program.

“They must avoid interfering in our defense program … We do not accept that Europe sings along with America’s bullying and its unreasonable demands,” Khamenei said, as reported by Reuters.

“They (Europeans) ask why does Iran have missiles? Why do you have missiles yourselves? Why do you have nuclear weapons?” He asked.

43 Dead in Taliban Attack on Afghan Army Base

The Taliban have carried out two suicide car bombings at an army base in Afghanistan’s southern Kandahar province, setting of several hours of fighting and killing at least 43 soldiers, the defense ministry and an Afghan official said Thursday.

“A group of insurgents attacked an army base in Chashmo area of Maiwand district in Kandahar province,” the defense ministry said in a statement, adding nine soldiers were wounded and six are unaccounted for.

Khalid Pashtun, a member of parliament from the province, also provided the same toll from the attack, which began late Wednesday.

The Taliban claimed the attack in a media statement.

Afghan forces have struggled to combat a resurgent Taliban since the US and NATO forces formally concluded their combat mission at the end of 2014. They have also suffered shocking casualties over the past year.

Elsewhere in Afghanistan, a Taliban ambush in the northern Balkh province late Wednesday killed six police, according to Shir Jan Durani, spokesman for the provincial police chief.

Meanwhile, the death toll from two suicide and gun attacks on Afghan security forces in southeast Afghanistan has risen to 80 with nearly 300 wounded, officials said Wednesday.