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British Prime Minister Theresa May talks with Conservative MP for Wokingham John Redwood during a visit to a new housing development in Wokingham
British Prime Minister Theresa May talks with Conservative MP for Wokingham John Redwood during a visit to a new housing development in Wokingham, Britain, January 3, 2018. REUTERS/Leon Neal/Pool

March 18, 2019

LONDON (Reuters) – A Brexit-supporting British lawmaker said a “lot of people” in parliament still remained opposed to Prime Minister Theresa May’s European Union withdrawal deal, with hostility going beyond opposition to the so-called Irish backstop.

“This is a very bad agreement,” John Redwood told BBC radio. “Quite a number share my overall concerns that we don’t need this kind of binding treaty.

“It’s a lot of people and it goes far wider than the ERG group who have been particularly keen to have the right kind of Brexit,” he added.

(Reporting by Michael Holden; editing by Kate Holton)

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Iranian President Rouhani gestures to the crowd at a public speech in Bandar Kangan
Iranian President Hassan Rouhani gestures to the crowd at a public speech in Bandar Kangan, Iran March 17, 2019. Official Iranian President website/Handout via REUTERS

March 18, 2019

LONDON (Reuters) – Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said on Monday that U.S. sanctions against Iran were “crimes against humanity” and said Tehran would file a legal case against U.S. officials for imposing difficulties on the nation.

Rouhani said in a speech broadcast live on state television that the U.S. sanctions have affected the value of Iran’s rial currency and increased inflation, but said the government would overcome the difficulties.

(Reporting by Bozorgmehr Sharafedin; Editing by Catherine Evans)

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Flooding caused by Cyclone Idai is seen in Chipinge
Flooding caused by Cyclone Idai is seen in Chipinge, Zimbabwe, March 16, 2019 in this still image taken from social media video obtained March 17, 2019. Tony Saywood via REUTERS

March 18, 2019

HARARE (Reuters) – At least 89 people have died in Zimbabwe after Cyclone Idai tore across the eastern and southern parts of the country, a government official said on Monday, creating a humanitarian crisis in a nation grappling with economic woes and a drought.

The scale of destruction is only becoming apparent as rescuers reach the most affected areas, near the border with Mozambique.

Chimanimani district has been cut off from the rest of the country by torrential rains and winds of up to 170 km per hour that swept away roads, homes and bridges and knocked out power and communication lines.

“The number of confirmed deaths throughout the country is now 89,” Nick Mangwana, the secretary for ministry of information told Reuters via a text message.

Local officials say the body count is expected to rise.

The United Nations says more than 100 people have died in weeks of heavy rain and flooding in Mozambique and Malawi, where villages were left underwater.

Rescuers are struggling to reach people in Chimanimani, many of whom have been sleeping in the mountains since Friday, after their homes were flattened by rock falls and mudslides or washed away by torrential rains. Many families cannot bury the dead due to the floods.

The government has declared a state of disaster in areas affected by the storm, the worst to hit the country since Cyclone Eline devastated eastern and southern Zimbabwe in 2000.

The country of 15 million people is already suffering a severe drought that has wilted crops. A United Nations humanitarian agency says 5.3 million people will require food aid.

(Reporting by MacDonald Dzirutwe; Editing by Catherine Evans)

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U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis and South Korean National Defense Minister Jeong Kyeong-doo take part in an armed forces full honor arrival ceremony in Washington
South Korean National Defense Minister Jeong Kyeong-doo reviews an honor guard during an armed forces full honor arrival ceremony hosted by U.S. Secretary of Defense James Mattis before the 50th annual ROK-U.S. Security Consultative Meeting at the Pentagon in Washington, U.S., October 31, 2018. REUTERS/Joshua Roberts

March 18, 2019

By Hyonhee Shin and Josh Smith

SEOUL (Reuters) – It is too soon to tell if recent activity at some of North Korea’s rocket facilities is preparation for a missile launch, South Korea’s defense minister told a parliamentary hearing on Monday.

Early in March, several American think-tanks and South Korean officials reported that satellite imagery showed possible preparations for a launch from the Sohae rocket launch site at Tongchang-ri, North Korea, which has been used in the past to launch satellites but not intercontinental ballistic missiles capable of delivering a nuclear warhead.

“It’s hasty to call it missile-related activity,” Defense Minister Jeong Kyeong-doo told a parliamentary defense committee.

“Tongchang-ri is a launch site but we don’t see any activity being carried out for a missile launch.”

When asked if he could confirm whether Sohae was functionally restored, Jeong said it was inappropriate for intelligence authorities to comment on every media report one way or the other.

He also said there were signs of continued nuclear activity in North Korea, without elaborating.

Unification Minister Cho Myoung-gyon told a separate parliamentary panel that it was possible that the recent developments at the missile site were to bolster North Korea’s leverage in negotiations.

“But given North Korea’s continued work, thorough analysis is needed to find out its exact intentions,” Cho said.

On Friday, North Korean Vice Foreign Minister Choe Son Hui told foreign diplomats and journalists in Pyongyang that leader Kim Jong Un was considering suspending talks with the United States and may rethink a freeze on missile and nuclear tests unless the United States made concessions.

The activity at Sohae appeared to begin shortly before U.S. President Trump met Kim at a summit in Hanoi late last month.

The summit broke down over differences about U.S. demands for North Korea to denuclearize and its demand for dramatic relief from international sanctions imposed for its nuclear and missile tests, which it pursued for years in defiance of U.N. Security Council resolutions.

Trump said after his first summit with Kim in Singapore last June that Kim had promised to dismantle the Sohae test site, a pledge the North Korean leader reiterated and expanded on at a summit with Moon in September.

North Korea has used Sohae to launch satellites into space since 2011, and the United States says its work there has helped develop missile technology.

A satellite launch in April 2012 killed off an Obama administration deal for a freeze in North Korean nuclear and missile testing reached weeks earlier.

On Wednesday, 38 North, a group that monitors North Korea, reported that there had been no new activity at Sohae since March 8.

On Friday, the group reported that satellite imagery showed no activity at North Korea’s Yongbyon nuclear reactor complex, or at dismantled facilities at the Punggye-ri nuclear test site.

(Reporting by Hyonhee Shin and Josh Smith; Editing by Robert Birsel)

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FILE PHOTO: Injured Islamic state militants are seen in the village of Baghouz, Deir Al Zor province
FILE PHOTO: Injured Islamic state militants are seen in the village of Baghouz, Deir Al Zor province, Syria, March 14, 2019. REUTERS/Issam Abdallah/File Photo

March 18, 2019

DEIR AL-ZOR PROVINCE, Syria (Reuters) – U.S.-backed fighters have taken positions in Islamic State’s last enclave in eastern Syria, they said late on Sunday, after pounding the tiny patch of land by the banks of the Euphrates.

“Several positions captured and an ammunition storage has been blown up,” said Mustafa Bali, a spokesman for the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) militia, on Twitter.

The enclave resembles an encampment, filled with stationary vehicles and rough shelters with blankets or tarpaulins that could be seen flapping in the wind on Sunday during a lull in fighting as people walked among them.

Backed by air power and special forces from a U.S.-led coalition, the SDF has pushed Islamic State from almost the entire northeastern corner of Syria, defeating it in Raqqa in 2017 and driving it to its last enclave at Baghouz last year.

However, while its defeat at Baghouz will end its control of populated land in the third of Syria and Iraq that it captured in 2014, the group will remain a threat, regional and Western officials say.

The SDF has waged a staggered assault on the enclave, pausing for long periods over recent weeks to allow surrendering fighters, their families and other civilians to pour out.

Since Jan. 9, more than 60,000 people have left the enclave, about half of them surrendering Islamic State supporters including some 5,000 fighters, the SDF said on Sunday.

People leaving the area have spoken of harsh conditions inside, under coalition bombardment and with supplies of food so scarce some resorted to eating grass.

Last month, the SDF said it had found a mass grave in an area it captured.

Still, many of those who left Baghouz have vowed their allegiance to the jihadist group, which last week put out a propaganda film from inside the enclave calling on its supporters to keep faith.

Suicide attacks on Friday targeted families of Islamic State fighters attempting to leave the enclave and surrender, killing six people, the SDF said.

Late on Sunday, the Kurdish Ronahi TV station aired footage showing a renewed assault on the enclave, with fires seen to be raging inside and tracer fire and rockets zooming into the tiny area.

The SDF and the coalition say the Islamic State fighters inside Baghouz are among the group’s most hardened foreign fighters, though Western countries believe its leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, has left the area.

(Reporting by Angus McDowall; Editing by Robert Birsel)

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Algeria's newly appointed prime minister, Noureddine Bedoui, holds a joint news conference with deputy prime minister Ramtane Lamamra, in Algiers,
Algeria’s newly appointed prime minister, Noureddine Bedoui, holds a joint news conference with deputy prime minister Ramtane Lamamra, in Algiers, Algeria March 14, 2019. REUTERS/Zohra Bensemra

March 18, 2019

ALGIERS (Reuters) – Thirteen Algerian unions have refused to back newly-appointed Prime Minister Noureddine Bedoui’s efforts to form a government he hopes will placate protesters who are pressuring President Abdelaziz Bouteflika and his inner circle to step down.

“We will not hold discussions with this system, we belong to the people and the people said ‘No’ to the system,” Boualem Amora, one of the leaders of the education sector unions, told reporters.

(Reporting by Algiers bureau; Writing by Michael Georgy; Editing by Clarence Fernandez)

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Rohingya students are seen during a class at school, at Leda refugee camp in Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh
Rohingya students are seen during a class at school, at Leda refugee camp in Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh, February 9, 2019. REUTERS/Jiraporn Kuhakan

March 18, 2019

By Poppy McPherson and Ruma Paul

COX’S BAZAR, Bangladesh (Reuters) – Sixteen-year-old Kefayat Ullah walked to his school in southern Bangladesh in late January, as he had done most days for the previous six years, to find that – despite being one of the top students in his class – he had been expelled.

A government investigation had outed him, along with dozens of his classmates, as a Rohingya refugee, a member of the mostly stateless Muslim minority from neighboring Myanmar.

“Our headmaster called us into his office and told us that there’s an order that Rohingya students have no rights to study here anymore,” said the teenager, a small boy with cropped hair and a faint moustache. “We went back home crying.”

For years, Bangladeshi schools have quietly admitted some of the Rohingya who live as refugees in sprawling camps on the country’s southern coast, and whose numbers have swelled to more than 1 million since violence across the border in 2017. But the new influx has tested the hospitality of the Bangladeshi government, leading them to apply tighter controls on the population.

The recent expulsions highlight the struggle of hundreds of thousands of children desperate to study in the world’s largest refugee settlement, but at risk of missing out on crucial years of education and the chance to obtain formal qualifications.

More than 730,000 Rohingya fled Myanmar after a military campaign in late 2017 that the United Nations has said was executed with “genocidal intent”. Thousands more, like Kefayat, were born in Bangladesh after their parents fled earlier waves of violence.

Though Myanmar says it is ready to welcome back the refugees, northern Rakhine state, from where they fled, is still riven by ethnic tensions and violence, and the U.N. has said conditions are not right for them to return.

Bangladesh’s Prime Minister, Sheikh Hasina, meanwhile, has said the country cannot afford to integrate them.

“HUNGRY FOR EDUCATION”

In some countries, governments allow refugees to study in local schools, allowing them to gain recognized qualifications, or permit institutions in the camps to teach the national curriculum. But Bangladesh has not recognized the vast majority of the Rohingya as refugees and does not issue birth certificates for those born in the camps, making their legal status unclear.

The government has also forbidden centers in the camps from teaching the Bangladesh curriculum, according to the U.N. children’s agency, UNICEF.

“Many students are depressed and frustrated,” said a 21-year-old who asked not to be named because he was continuing to pass as Bangladeshi so he could go to university.

“Yes, we are somehow pretending to be Bangladeshi students. Yes, we have got some education. But now, where will we go? The world should think about this: if we can’t study, our future will be damaged. We are hungry for education.”

In the headmaster’s office at Leda High School, piles of textbooks inscribed with the names of some of the 64 expelled students lay stacked in a corner.

“We are very sorry and disappointed about the decision,” said the principal, Jamal Uddin. “The government is providing everything for the Rohingya – why not education?”

But others were relieved. Eighteen months on from the start of the crisis, and with no resolution in sight, some local people are losing patience.

In the grassy playground of the school, its founder, 48-year-old Kamal Uddin Ahmed, said the arrival of the Rohingya had been a massive upheaval for the local area.

“How do you think I feel?” he said. “We don’t mind the Rohingya, but we mind our lives.”

Intelligence officials who visited said it was “not safe for the country, not safe for our people” to have Rohingya in schools, he said.

Rohingya have been accused by some of bringing drugs and crime to Bangladesh.

“SHORT TERM”

In a letter to local headmasters dated January, Bangladesh’s Refugee Relief and Repatriation Commission Chief Abul Kalam said that an intelligence report on the situation had been filed with the prime minister’s office in November.

“It has been seen the trend of Rohingya children’s participation in getting education has been increasing,” Kalam said in the letter, seen by Reuters, adding that some Rohingya had obtained fake Bangladeshi identity documents through “dishonest public representatives”.

“It is advised to monitor strictly so that no Rohingya children can take education outside the camps or elsewhere in Bangladesh,” he said.

Asked about his order to expel Rohingya children from local schools, Kalam said they were getting an education from learning centers in the camps.

“They are not allowed to enrol in Bangladeshi schools as they are not Bangladeshi citizens,” he said.

But many children and their parents say the hundreds of learning centers operated in the camps by international NGOs and the U.N. offer mostly unstructured learning and playtime.

Bob Rae, Canada’s Special Envoy to Myanmar, who has also traveled to Bangladesh, said Bangladesh authorities including Sheikh Hasina “have emphasized that the refugee camp is supposed to be ‘short term’ and that to talk about schooling beyond learning centers for very young children would risk giving the impression, to Myanmar and the world, that camps were there to stay”.

SECRET STUDYING

In the camps, many children study by themselves from tattered textbooks carried from Myanmar or purchased at local markets, where stalls ply a swift trade in copies of the Myanmar curriculum smuggled across the border. Recent fighting in the region has made imports tougher, one stall owner said.

“There are many Rohingya who can’t get the Myanmar curriculum – we are doing this so we can help them,” said 20-year-old Nurul Ansur, the Bangladeshi proprietor of a print shop which specializes in copies of the textbooks, pulling a copy of ‘Grade One Primer, Basic Education’ from a filing cabinet.

A makeshift school staffed with Rohingya volunteer teachers opened in February, though the headteacher said they had no official permission to operate.

Karen Reidy, a communications officer at UNICEF, which leads education programming in the camps, said efforts were under way to adapt other countries’ curriculums into a “learning framework” for refugee children.

“There’s a risk in the camps that we will see a lost generation of children if we don’t manage to catch them with education, with skills and training at this critical point in their lives,” she said.

At Nayapara camp, the expelled students recounted stories from years of illicit study at the Bangladeshi schools. Some of their classmates were cruel, said Kefayat Ullah.

“They used the word ‘Rohingya’, ‘Burma’ to tease us,” he said. “Nevertheless, we were happy. We need education.”

One 15-year-old, Mohammed Yunus, said he had worked in a brick-field to pay for classes that his parents could not afford.

“Bangladesh wants to see us a good community,” he said. “Also the U.N. wants to see us a good community, but if they block our education, how can we be?”

Kefayat Ullah had dreamed of graduating and becoming a journalist “to help our community”. Now, he watches his Bangladeshi former classmates travel to and from class in their crisp white shirts.

“We feel sad when we see the local students studying in a nice place, quietly,” he said. “Now we are always worried and thinking – what will we do?”

(Reporting by Poppy Elena McPherson; Editing by Alex Richardson)

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Mass Transit Railway (MTR) trains collide near Central station during signal system trial in Hong Kong
Mass Transit Railway (MTR) trains collide near Central station during signal system trial in Hong Kong, China March 18, 2019. MTR Corp/Handout via REUTERS ATTENTION EDITORS – THIS IMAGE WAS PROVIDED BY A THIRD PARTY. NO RESALES. NO ARCHIVES

March 18, 2019

HONG KONG (Reuters) – A train collision disrupted services in Hong Kong on Monday, threatening commuter chaos during rush hour in the heart of the Asian financial hub, authorities said.

The rare disruption on a network used by nearly 6 million people every weekday brought services to a halt between the stations of Central and Admiralty, rail operator MTR Corp said.

“The repair will take quite a long time and the service between Central and Admiralty … will not be available for the whole day,” its operations director, Lau Tin-shing, told a news briefing.

An investigation into the incident has begun, although the trains carried no passengers at the time of the collision during the trial run of a new signal system.

The drivers of both trains were taken to hospital, the network operator added, urging commuters to use other forms of travel or different rail routes.

Shares of MTR fell more than 1 percent in early trade, lagging a gain of 0.3 percent in the benchmark index.

(Reporting by Anne Marie Roantree and Donny Kwok; Editing by Clarence Fernandez)

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FILE PHOTO: Weapons the government says were seized from militants in Xinjiang are on display at an exhibition titled
FILE PHOTO: Weapons the government says were seized from militants in Xinjiang are on display at an exhibition titled “Major Violent Terrorist Attack Cases in Xinjiang”, during a government organised trip in Urumqi, Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region, China, January 3, 2019. REUTERS/Ben Blanchard/File Photo

March 18, 2019

BEIJING (Reuters) – Authorities in China have arrested almost 13,000 “terrorists” in the restive far western region of Xinjiang since 2014, the government said on Monday, in a lengthy policy paper again defending its controversial Islamic de-radicalisation measures.

China has faced growing international opprobrium for setting up facilities that United Nations experts describe as detention centers holding more than one million Uighurs and other Muslims. Beijing says it needs the measures to stem the threat of Islamist militancy, and calls them vocational training centers.

Legal authorities have adopted a policy that “strikes the right balance between compassion and severity”, the government said in its white paper.

Since 2014, Xinjiang has “destroyed 1,588 violent and terrorist gangs, arrested 12,995 terrorists, seized 2,052 explosive devices, punished 30,645 people for 4,858 illegal religious activities, and confiscated 345,229 copies of illegal religious materials”, it added.

Only a small minority of people face strict punishment, such as ringleaders of terror groups, while those influenced by extremist thinking receive education and training to teach them the error of their ways, the paper said.

The main exiled group, the World Uyghur Congress, swiftly denounced the white paper.

“China is deliberately distorting the truth,” spokesman Dilxat Raxit said in an emailed statement.

“Counter-terrorism is a political excuse to suppress the Uighurs. The real aim of the so-called de-radicalisation is to eliminate faith and thoroughly carry out Sinification.”

The white paper said Xinjiang has faced a particular challenge since the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks in the United States, as East Turkestan extremists ramped up activities in China, referring to China’s term for extremists and separatists it says operates in Xinjiang.

“They screamed the evil words of ‘getting into heaven by martyrdom with jihad’, turning some people into extremists and terrorists who have been completely mind-controlled, and even turned into murderous devils.”

Religious extremism under the banner of Islam runs counter to Islamic doctrines, and is not Islam, it added.

Xinjiang has long been an inseparable part of Chinese territory, and the Uighur ethnic group evolved from a long process of migration and ethnic integration, the paper said.

“They are not descendants of the Turks.”

Turkey is the only Islamic country that has regularly expressed concern about the situation in Xinjiang, due to close cultural links with the Uighurs, who speak a Turkic language.

China has denounced Turkish concern as unwarranted and interference in its internal affairs.

(Reporting by Ben Blanchard; Editing by Clarence Fernandez)

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Former British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson speaks in Parliament in London
Former British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson speaks in Parliament in London, Britain, March 12, 2019, in this screen grab taken from video. Reuters TV via REUTERS

March 17, 2019

LONDON (Reuters) – Former British Foreign Minister Boris Johnson said on Sunday it was not too late for the government to get “real change” to Prime Minister Theresa May’s Brexit deal and cautioned against holding another parliamentary vote on the agreement this week.

Johnson, who was a figurehead of a campaign for Britain to leave the European Union in a 2016 referendum and might influence other lawmakers on which way to vote over May’s deal, asked in his column in the Telegraph newspaper whether there was a way forward to break the impasse of Brexit in parliament.

“Perhaps,” he answered. “There is an EU summit this week. It is not too late to get real change to the backstop. It would be absurd to hold the vote before that has even been attempted.”

He also said May should outline her strategy for talks on the future relationship with the EU to “reassure … understandably doubtful MPs (members of parliament) by answering some basic questions”.

May is expected to hold the third vote on her Brexit deal this week after suffering heavy defeats, and she is hoping to win over lawmakers, many of whom like Johnson fear the so-called Northern Irish backstop could trap Britain in the EU’s sphere.

The backstop is an insurance policy to stop any return of a border controls between the British province of Northern Ireland and EU member Ireland if a future trading deal fails to remove the need for them.

(Reporting by Elizabeth Piper; Editing by Cynthia Osterman)

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