Students who were dropped off by a school bus walk past a location in south Seattle Tuesday, March 3, 2020, where King County will be placing several temporary housing units to house patients undergoing treatment and isolation in response to the COVID-19 coronavirus. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren=Newsis)
Students who were dropped off by a school bus walk past a location in south Seattle Tuesday, March 3, 2020, where King County will be placing several temporary housing units to house patients undergoing treatment and isolation in response to the COVID-19 coronavirus. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren=Newsis)

The coronavirus epidemic shifted increasingly westward toward the Middle East, Europe and the United States on Tuesday, with governments taking emergency steps to ease shortages of masks and other supplies for front-line doctors and nurses.

“We are concerned that countries’ abilities to respond are being compromised by the severe and increasing disruption to the global supply of personal protective equipment, caused by rising demand, hoarding and misuse,” said World Health Organization Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus.

“We can’t stop COVID-19 without protecting our health workers.”

Deaths in Italy surged to 79, making it the deadliest reported outbreak outside China. Twenty-three members of Iran’s Parliament and the head of the country’s emergency services were reported infected. South Korea expanded drive-thru testing and confirmed hundreds of new cases. And in Spain’s Basque region, at least five doctors and nurses were infected and nearly 100 health care workers were being held in isolation.

The mushrooming outbreaks contrasted with optimism in China, where thousands of recovered patients were going home and the number of new infections has been dropping.
Worldwide, more than 93,000 people have been infected and over 3,100 have died, the vast majority of them in China. The number of countries hit by the virus exceeded 70, with Ukraine and Morocco reporting their first cases.

Virus clusters in the United States led schools and subways to sanitize and spread fears among nursing home residents, who are especially vulnerable. The number of the infections in the U.S. topped 100 and the death toll climbed to nine. All of the deaths were in Washington state, and most of them were residents of a Seattle-area nursing home.

The U.S. Federal Reserve announced the biggest interest-rate cut in over a decade to try to counter the expected damage to the economy, and stocks rose briefly on Wall Street in reaction before slumping again. Fed Chairman Jerome Powell said the virus “will surely weigh on economic activity both here and abroad for some time.”

Other Group of Seven countries appeared reluctant to follow suit with their own cuts, probably because many of their interest rates are already near or below zero.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration gave health care workers the OK to use an industrial type of respirator mask often used to protect construction workers from dust and debris.

Iran’s supreme leader ordered the military to assist health officials in fighting the virus, which authorities said has killed 77 people. Among the dead are a confidant of Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Iran’s former ambassador to the Vatican and a recently elected member of Parliament.

Iran’s judiciary chief, Ebrahim Raisi, said some people are stockpiling medical supplies for profit and urged prosecutors to show no mercy. “Hoarding sanitizing items is playing with people’s lives, and it is not ignorable,” he said.

France’s president announced the government will take control of current and future stocks of face masks to ensure they could go to health workers and coronavirus patients, and the finance minister warned that binge-shopping for household essentials could trigger shortages. The country reported a total of more than 200 cases and four deaths.

“In this period we’re going through – we have entered a phase that will last weeks and, undoubtedly, months — it is indispensable to have clarity, resilience, sangfroid and determination to stop the epidemic” French President Emmanuel Macron said during a visit to the government’s virus crisis center.

South Korea confirmed another 142 cases Wednesday morning, raising its total to 5,328, the second-highest in the world. At drive-thru virus testing centers, workers dressed head-to-toe in white protective suits leaned into cars with mouth swabs to check for the virus. Troops sprayed disinfectant on streets and alleys across the city.

In China, the count of new cases dropped again Wednesday, with just 119 reported. It is still by far the hardest-hit country, with over 80,000 infections and about 95% of the world’s deaths.

“We scrutinized this data and we believe this decline is real,” said WHO outbreak expert Maria Van Kerkhove, who traveled to China as part of a team from the U.N. agency. She said the extraordinary measures taken there, including the lockdown of more than 60 million people, had a significant effect on the direction of the outbreak.

“We believe that a reduction of cases in other countries, including Italy, Korea, Iran, everywhere, that this is possible,” she said.

China’s ambassador to the United Nations said the country is winning its battle against COVID-19. “We are not far from the coming of the victory,” Zhang Jun said.

In Japan, questions continued to build about the fate of the Olympics.

The country’s Olympic minister, Seiko Hashimoto, said Japan is “making the utmost effort” to proceed with the games’ opening on July 24 in Tokyo. But she told parliament that the country’s contract with the International Olympic Committee specifies only that the games be held in 2020, meaning they could be postponed to later in the year if necessary.
___
Hinnant reported in Paris. Contributors include Martin Crutsinger and Christopher Rugaber in Washington; Jamey Keaten in Geneva; Maria Cheng in London; Matt Sedensky in Bangkok; Nicole Winfield and Frances D’Emilio in Rome; Aritz Parra in Madrid; Chris Grygiel in Seattle; Kim Tong-Hyung and Hyung-jin Kim in Seoul, South Korea; Stephen Wade in Tokyo; Nasser Karimi in Tehran, Iran; and Jon Gambrell in Dubai, United Arab Emirates. (AP=Newsis)

(200110) -- CANBERRA, Jan. 10, 2020 (Xinhua) -- The road from Braidwood to Batemans Bay is blocked in Braidwood in the southeast of Australia, Jan. 8, 2020. If without the bushfires, Braidwood in the southeast of Australia would have been busy at this time of the year, greeting tourists going to the beach of Batemans Bay.     But the bushfires on New Year's Eve that had burned down houses and stranded holidaymakers in the tourism destination 45 kilometers away not only took a toll on local economy, but also cast a shadow over people's life there.     TO GO WITH: "Feature: Worries, wishes of a town close to bushfires" (Photo by Chu Chen/Xinhua=Newsis)
(200110) — CANBERRA, Jan. 10, 2020 (Xinhua) — The road from Braidwood to Batemans Bay is blocked in Braidwood in the southeast of Australia, Jan. 8, 2020. If without the bushfires, Braidwood in the southeast of Australia would have been busy at this time of the year, greeting tourists going to the beach of Batemans Bay.
But the bushfires on New Year’s Eve that had burned down houses and stranded holidaymakers in the tourism destination 45 kilometers away not only took a toll on local economy, but also cast a shadow over people’s life there.
TO GO WITH: “Feature: Worries, wishes of a town close to bushfires” (Photo by Chu Chen/Xinhua=Newsis)

Thousands of people fled their homes and helicopters dropped supplies to towns at risk of nearby wildfires as hot, windy conditions Friday threatened already fire-ravaged southeastern Australian communities.

 

The danger is centered on New South Wales and Victoria, Australia’s most populous states, where temperatures and wind speeds are escalating after a few days of relatively benign conditions.

 

The New South Wales Rural Fire Service had warned that coastal towns south of Sydney including Eden, Batemans Bay and Nowra could again be under threat weeks after losing homes to the fires. By early evening Friday, the wildfires burning in that region were holding within containment lines, but a strong shift in winds predicted for later Friday could cause them to flare anew, Rural Fire Service Commissioner Shane Fitzsimmons told reporters.

 

“A long afternoon to go, a long night still to go, for all our firefighters and those affected by the fires,” Fitzimmons said.

 

In neighboring Victoria, evacuation orders were issued in alpine areas. Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews pleaded with residents to evacuate fire-danger areas when alerts were issued.

 

“If it is safe to get out, then you must get out. That is the only way to guarantee your safety,” Andrews said on Thursday.

 

The unprecedented fire crisis in southeast Australia has claimed at least 26 lives, destroyed more than 2,000 homes and scorched an area twice the size of the U.S. state of Maryland since September.

 

Prime Minister Scott Morrison said the Australian military was on standby to help firefighters and emergency agencies.

 

“I’ve given them very clear instructions that they are to stand ready to move and support immediately,” Morrison said on Friday. “In the event that they are needed in the wake of what we hope we will not see today, but we must prepare for today.“

 

The military has already been involved in the unfolding crisis by clearing roads closed by fallen trees, burying dead cattle and sheep and providing fodder to surviving livestock.

 

In the small village of Towamba in southern New South Wales, most residents had evacuated by Friday, after firefighters warned them that without a solid defense against the blazes, they should get out, said John Nightingale, a volunteer firefighter with the Rural Fire Service.

 

Last week, some houses in the village were destroyed by a fire that turned the afternoon sky first a deep magenta and then pitch black, Nightingale said.

 

“Late at night, you could hear the rumbling of the fire,” he said. “It was very terrifying.“

 

A wind change from the south was predicted to hit the village on Friday evening, which officials fear could blow the flames in a new direction. Nightingale said he and the other firefighters would work to snuff out any spot fires that flare up to try and keep them from spreading. But if conditions became too dangerous, they would need to take shelter at a community hall, a solid structure with about 25,000 liters (6,600 gallons) of water attached to it. Alongside the hall is a cleared, grassy area away from trees and shrubs where people can retreat as a last resort.

 

“The grass on the oval is very short so there’s nothing to carry a strong fire,” he said. “So that’s a survival option, basically. A patch of grass. And if that happened, we’d have trucks and sprinklers going and hoses going, wetting people down. But I would hate it to come to that. Anything but that.“

 

Temperatures in the threatened area were expected to reach into the mid-40s Celsius (more than 110 degrees Fahrenheit) on Friday, and conditions remained tinder dry.

 

The wildfire disaster has focused many Australians on how the nation adapts to climate change. Morrison has come under blistering criticism for downplaying the need for his government to address climate change, which experts say helps supercharge the blazes.

 

Morrison said on Thursday that a government inquiry into the fires would examine the role of climate change.

 

Asked on Friday whether he expected fire emergencies of the same magnitude to become more common in the future with climate change, Morrison did not give a direct answer.

 

“There’ll be the reviews that take place as you’d expect and I’ve indicated in response to questions that we’ll be working closely with state and territory authorities on how they’re undertaken,” Morrison told reporters. “The links and implications here have been acknowledged.“

 

Morrison brushed off criticism over what many Australians perceive as a slow, detached response to the wildfire crisis.

 

“What we’ve got here is the single largest federal response to a bushfire disaster nationally that the country has ever seen,” Morrison said. “The government’s responding to an unprecedented crisis with an unprecedented level of support.“

 

The conservation group WWF-Australia estimates that 1.25 billion wild animals had died during the current fire crisis in addition to livestock losses, which the government expects will exceed 100,000 animals.

 

WWF fears the disasters could lead to local extinctions and threaten the survival of some species, such as the glossy black-cockatoo and a knee-high kangaroo known as the long-footed potoroo.

 

WWF conservation scientist Stuart Blanch described the estimate as conservative, and it did not include bats, frogs and insects.

 

The majority of estimated losses were reptiles, followed by birds, then mammals such as koalas, kangaroos, wallabies, echidnas and wombats.

 

“Kangaroos can get away from fires. But a lot get burnt to a crisp stuck in a fence,” Blanch said.

 

WWF estimates there were between 100,000 and 200,000 koalas across Australia before the fire season. Estimated koala losses in the current emergency include 25,000 on Kangaroo Island off southern Australia and 8,000 in northwest New South Wales.

 

“It’s a significant loss, but I don’t think we’ll know for several months,” Blanch said of the koala deaths. (AP=Newsis)

Damage caused by bushfire is seen at resident Brian Williams' resort at Lake Cooroibah Road in Noosa Shire, Queensland, Australia, Monday, Nov. 11, 2019. Australia’s most populous state New South Wales declared a state of emergency on Monday due to unprecedented wildfire danger as calls grew for Australia to take more action to plan for an counter climate change. New South Wales state Emergency Services Minister David Elliott said residents were facing what "could be the most dangerous bushfire week this nation has ever seen.” (Rob Maccoll/AAP Images=Newsis)
Damage caused by bushfire is seen at resident Brian Williams’ resort at Lake Cooroibah Road in Noosa Shire, Queensland, Australia, Monday, Nov. 11, 2019. Australia’s most populous state New South Wales declared a state of emergency on Monday due to unprecedented wildfire danger as calls grew for Australia to take more action to plan for an counter climate change. New South Wales state Emergency Services Minister David Elliott said residents were facing what “could be the most dangerous bushfire week this nation has ever seen.” (Rob Maccoll/AAP Images=Newsis)

Climate change and the environment have emerged as the biggest concern for Australian voters, according to the latest Trust Issues survey, published by JWS Research on Friday.
Post-election optimism for the governing Coalition has faded and anxiety levels over the stagnating economy have grown. The survey conducted from Nov. 6 to Nov. 11 revealed a significant shift in voters’ priorities since the election.

When asked, unprompted, to identify their top three issues of concern, 34 percent of respondents named the environment and climate, followed by hospitals, healthcare and ageing (28 percent), employment and wages (22 percent) and the economy and finances (20 percent).

By comparison, in the previous survey in June, one month after the election, only 22 percent of voters identified climate change as a concern.

The governing Liberal National Party Coalition and Prime Minister Scott Morrison have faced criticism for refusing to pursue ambitious climate change policies.

The poll was taken amid debates about the links between climate change and catastrophic bushfires that have devastated much of Australia’s east coast, killing four people.

When respondents were given a list of 20 potential concerns and asked to rate them in order of importance, climate change and the environment came fourth behind cost of living, health and employment and wages. (Xinhua=Newsis)

A Maylands employee checks the bronze paint at the factory in London, Thursday, Oct. 24, 2019.  Founded 135 years ago, Mylands paint factory has survived two World Wars, and now supplies film and TV productions such as ``Harry Potter'' and ``Game of Thrones,'' but Brexit is already reshaping business decisions as they increase storage and have moved extra stocks to Germany. (AP Photo/Frank Augstein=Newsis)
A Maylands employee checks the bronze paint at the factory in London, Thursday, Oct. 24, 2019. Founded 135 years ago, Mylands paint factory has survived two World Wars, and now supplies film and TV productions such as “Harry Potter” and “Game of Thrones,” but Brexit is already reshaping business decisions as they increase storage and have moved extra stocks to Germany. (AP Photo/Frank Augstein=Newsis)

Global shares were mixed Friday, after Wall Street indexes posted modest gains, cheered by solid profits and forecasts from U.S. technology companies.

But uncertainties such as U.S.-China trade tensions and Britain’s unruly process toward leaving the European Union weighed on investor sentiment.

France’s CAC 40 edged up 0.2% to 5,692.86. Germany’s DAX slipped 0.2% to 12,845.85. Britain’s FTSE 100 added nearly 0.2% to 7,316.62.

U.S. shares were set to drift higher with Dow futures inching up slightly to 26,782. S&P 500 futures were up 0.1% at 3,006.80.

Faltering progress toward the United Kingdom’s departure from the EU took another setback when British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said Thursday he plans to ask Parliament to vote Monday on a motion calling a national election for Dec. 12.

That came two days after lawmakers stymied Johnson’s latest attempt to get approval for his proposal for leaving the 28-nation bloc.

In Asian trading, Japan’s benchmark Nikkei 225 added 0.2% to finish at 22,799.81. Australia’s S&P/ASX 200 gained 0.7% to 6,739.20. South Korea’s Kospi edged 0.1% higher to 2,087.89. Hong Kong’s Hang Seng dipped 0.4% to 26,683.95, while the Shanghai Composite advanced 0.5% to 2,954.93.

Traders have been bracing for weaker results this earnings season amid concerns about the costly trade war between the U.S. and China, and increased signs of slowing economic growth worldwide.

The Federal Reserve and Japan’s central bank are due to hold policy meetings next week that hold the potential to please or disappoint markets.

However, earnings reports so far have mostly exceeded Wall Street analysts’ modest expectations.

“The past week saw most major share markets push higher helped by generally good U.S. earnings reports, benign geopolitical news and optimism that global recession will be avoided,” said Shane Oliver, chief economist at AMP Capital.

Meanwhile, U.S. and Chinese officials have been working on the details of an agreement aimed at resolving some of the disputes that have embroiled the world’s two largest economies in a tariff war that is squeezing manufacturers and farmers on both sides.

U.S. Vice President Mike Pence adopted a hard line in a speech Thursday laying out President Donald Trump’s China policies.

He accused companies, including Nike and the NBA, of being too willing to ignore Chinese pressure and censorship and repression in pursuit of profits. He also said the FBI has 1,000 active investigations into intellectual property theft, most of them involving China.

Pressure on U.S. companies to share advanced technology is one of the key sticking points in the dispute with Beijing over its own industrial and trade policies.

Pence also reiterated U.S. support for protesters in Hong Kong who have been holding increasingly violent demonstrations for more than four months to voice their fears Beijing is infringing on liberties promised to the semi-autonomous region when China took control of the former British colony in 1997.

So far, American backing for the protesters has drawn sharp rebukes from China but hasn’t appeared to affect the trade talks.

But the expected approval of a resolution expressing support for the protesters by the U.S. Senate, following a similar one in the House of Representatives, is likely to anger Beijing further.

ENERGY: Benchmark crude oil dipped 17 cents to $56.06 a barrel in electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange. It rose 26 cents to $56.23 a barrel Thursday. Brent crude oil, the international standard, lost 13 cents to $61.54 a barrel.

CURRENCIES: The dollar was little changed, rising to 108.64 Japanese yen from 108.60 yen on Thursday. The euro rose to $1.1112 from $1.1105.(AP=Newsis)

Climate change protestors from the Extinction Rebellion movement gather to demonstrate at Town Hall in Sydney, Tuesday, Oct. 8, 2019. In a series of protests also including Australian cities of Melbourne, Brisbane and Perth, protestors are demanding much more urgent action against climate change. (AP Photo/Rick Rycroft=Newsis)
Climate change protestors from the Extinction Rebellion movement gather to demonstrate at Town Hall in Sydney, Tuesday, Oct. 8, 2019. In a series of protests also including Australian cities of Melbourne, Brisbane and Perth, protestors are demanding much more urgent action against climate change. (AP Photo/Rick Rycroft=Newsis)

The Opposition Australian Labor Party (ALP) joined forces with Greens and minor parties to vote in favour of declaring a climate emergency but were defeated by the governing Liberal-National party (LNP) coalition in federal Parliament.

During a debate on the motion, Energy and Emissions Reduction Minister Angus Taylor declared the actions of the opposition a symbolic act and not practical.

“Labor’s hollow symbolism will not deliver a single tonne of emissions reduction … by contrast this government is taking meaningful actions.” said he, according to the recent report of The Sydney Morning Herald.

Australia has committed to reducing carbon emissions by 26-28 percent from 2005 levels by 2030 under the Paris climate accord.

However, according to figures released by Taylor emissions rose by 0.6 percent in the 12 months to March 2018.

The ALP is currently engaged in an internal debate on its climate policy.

The party went in to May’s general election, which it lost in a shock result, promising to reduce emissions by 45 percent from 2005 levels by 2030.

Conservative members of the party have urged leader Anthony Albanese to pursue a less ambitious target in order to be more electable.

Albanese told The Australian that his party would not declare its emissions reduction targets until closer to the next election, likely in 2022.

“We need to know where we are at. If (emissions continue to go up) obviously our challenge will be more difficult,” he said.

“But we will deal with it based upon the facts, based upon where we are at that point in time. That is a sensible thing to do.” (Xinhua=Newsis)

Protesters with placards participate in the Global Strike 4 Climate rally in Sydney, Friday, Sept. 20, 2019. Thousands of protesters are gathering at rallies around Australia as a day of worldwide demonstrations begins ahead of a U.N. climate summit in New York. (Steven Saphore/AAP Images via AP=Newsis)
Protesters with placards participate in the Global Strike 4 Climate rally in Sydney, Friday, Sept. 20, 2019. Thousands of protesters are gathering at rallies around Australia as a day of worldwide demonstrations begins ahead of a U.N. climate summit in New York. (Steven Saphore/AAP Images via AP=Newsis)

Tens of thousands of protesters gathered Friday at rallies around Australia as a day of worldwide demonstrations calling for action to guard against climate change began ahead a U.N. summit in New York.

Some of the first rallies in what is being billed as a “global climate strike” kicked off in Australia’s largest city, Sydney, and the national capital,
Canberra. Australian demonstrators called for their nation, which is the world’s largest exporter of coal and liquid natural gas, to take more drastic action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

Organizers estimate more than 300,000 protesters took to Australian streets in what would be the largest demonstrations the country had seen since the Iraq War began in 2003.

Protests were staged in 110 towns and cities across Australia, with organizers demanding government and business commit to a target of net zero carbon emissions by 2030.

Similar rallies were planned Friday in cities around the globe. In the United States more than 800 events were planned Friday, while in Germany more than 400 rallies were expected.

A similar coordinated protest in March that drew crowds around the world.
The protests are partly inspired by the activism of Swedish teenager Greta Thunberg, who has staged weekly demonstrations under the heading “Fridays for Future” over the past year, calling on world leaders to step up their efforts against climate change. Many who have followed her lead are students, but the movement has since spread to civil society groups.

Australian universities have said they will not penalize students for attending Friday’s rallies, while Australian schools vary on what action, if any, they take against children who skip classes to attend demonstrations.

Siobhan Sutton, a 15-year-old student at Perth Modern School, said she would fail a math exam by attending a protest in the west coast city of Perth.

“I have basically been told that because it is not a valid reason to be missing school – it is not a medical reason or anything – I am going to get a zero on the test if I don’t actually sit it,” she said.

“Even though we ourselves aren’t sick, the planet which we live on is, and we are protesting and fighting for it,” she added.

Siobhan said her math teacher had given her the option to sit the exam before Friday, but she was unable to do so because of her commitments as one of the protest organizers.

Acting Prime Minister Michael McCormack said students should be in school.

“These sorts of rallies should be held on a weekend where it doesn’t actually disrupt business, it doesn’t disrupt schools, it doesn’t disrupt universities,” McCormack told reporters in Melbourne.

“I think it is just a disruption,” he added.

School Strike 4 Climate said 265,000 protesters turned out at demonstrations in seven Australian cities alone. The largest crowd was an estimated 100,000 in Melbourne, followed by 80,000 in Sydney.

Most police services declined to release their own crowd estimates. Organizers put the crowd in Brisbane at 30,000, while police estimated 12,000. Organizers said 15,000 rallied in Canberra, but police said 7,000.
Australian police have a reputation for underestimating by half crowd numbers at protests.

The demonstrations come as Australia’s center-left opposition mulls abandoning its policy, rejected at May elections, of reducing Australia’s greenhouse gas emissions by 45% below 2005 levels by 2030. Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s conservative coalition won a surprise third term with a commitment to reduce emissions by a more modest 26% to 28% in the same time frame.

Morrison is in the U.S. for a state dinner with President Donald Trump on Friday and has been criticized for failing to include in his New York itinerary the U.N. climate summit on Monday, when leaders will present their long-term plans for curbing greenhouse gas emissions.

Some companies are encouraging their employees to join the climate strike.
Australian Council of Trade Unions, which represents labor unions, said it supported employees taking time off work to protest.

The council said in a statement that it “must take a stand for our future when our government will not.”

The demonstrations in 2003 that protested Australia sending combat troops to the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq were the largest since the Vietnam War. (AP=Newsis)

(190905) --  KUNAR, Sept. 5, 2019 (Xinhua) -- Taliban militants and Islamic State fighters go to a surrender ceremony in Kunar province, Afghanistan, Sept. 4, 2019. As many as 150 militants surrendered to the government in Afghanistan's eastern Kunar province on Wednesday, the deputy provincial governor said. (Photo by Emran Waak/Xinhua=Newsis)
(190905) — KUNAR, Sept. 5, 2019 (Xinhua) — Taliban militants and Islamic State fighters go to a surrender ceremony in Kunar province, Afghanistan, Sept. 4, 2019. As many as 150 militants surrendered to the government in Afghanistan’s eastern Kunar province on Wednesday, the deputy provincial governor said. (Photo by Emran Waak/Xinhua=Newsis)

The Taliban attacked a third provincial capital in Afghanistan in less than a week, killing at least two civilians, an official said Friday as a U.S. envoy was back in Qatar for unexpected talks on a U.S.-Taliban deal he had described as complete just days earlier.

Farah provincial governor Mohammad Shoaib Sabet told The Associated Press that another 15 people were wounded in the latest attack, citing local hospitals, and that airstrikes had been carried out against the militant group. Small clashes continued in the city, he said.

This week’s spike in violence, including two shattering Taliban car bombings in the capital, Kabul, comes after U.S. envoy Zalmay Khalilzad said he and the insurgents had reached a deal “in principle” that would begin a U.S. troop pullout in exchange for Taliban counterterror guarantees.

Khalilzad abruptly returned to Qatar, where the Taliban have a political office, from Kabul for more talks Thursday evening, even though earlier in the week he said the deal only needed President Donald Trump’s approval to be final.

Objections to the agreement raised by the Afghan government and several former U.S. ambassadors to Afghanistan, and the death of a U.S. service member in the latest Kabul bombing on Thursday, have increased pressure on Khalilzad in recent days.

House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Eliot Engel has demanded that the envoy testify before the House committee about the negotiations, saying that “I do not consider your testimony at this hearing optional.”

The Taliban have explained their surge in deadly attacks – including on the capitals of northern Kunduz and Baghlan provinces last weekend – as necessary to give them a stronger negotiating position in talks with the U.S., a stance that has appalled Afghans and others as scores of civilians are killed.

One Farah resident, Shams Noorzai, said the Taliban on Friday had seized an army recruitment center close to the city’s main police headquarters and set it on fire. All shops had closed, he said, and some people were trying to flee. It was at least the third time the Taliban have attacked the city, the capital of Farah province, in the past four years.

The governor later said security forces had re-taken the recruitment center.

Fighting resumed in at least one part of Kunduz city and two outlying districts on Friday, with some residents trying to flee again, provincial council head Mohammad Yousuf Ayubi said.

Few details have emerged from the nine rounds of U.S.-Taliban talks over nearly a year. Khalilzad has said the first 5,000 U.S. troops would withdraw from five bases in Afghanistan within 135 days of a final deal. Between 14,000 and 13,000 troops are currently in the country.

However, the Taliban want all of the approximately 20,000 U.S. and NATO troops out of Afghanistan as soon as possible.

The U.S. for its part seeks Taliban guarantees that they will not allow Afghanistan to become a haven from which extremist groups such as al-Qaida and the local affiliate of the Islamic State group can launch global attacks. (AP=Newsis)

From left, Japan's Land, Infrastructure and Transport Minister Keiichi Ishii, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and Finance Minister Taro Aso attend a Cabinet meeting in Tokyo Friday, Aug. 2, 2019. Japan has approved the removal of South Korea from a "whitelist" of countries with preferential trade status, escalating tensions between the neighbors. (Yoshitaka Sugawara/Kyodo News via AP=Newsis)
From left, Japan’s Land, Infrastructure and Transport Minister Keiichi Ishii, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and Finance Minister Taro Aso attend a Cabinet meeting in Tokyo Friday, Aug. 2, 2019. Japan has approved the removal of South Korea from a “whitelist” of countries with preferential trade status, escalating tensions between the neighbors. (Yoshitaka Sugawara/Kyodo News via AP=Newsis)

Japan on Friday decided to remove South Korea from a list of nations entitled to simplified export control procedures.

The cabinet of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe approved plans to remove South Korea from a “white list” of countries, raising the stakes in a bitter diplomatic row between the neighbors.

The removal of South Korea from the list will take effect on Aug. 28 after going through necessary domestic procedures, Japanese Minister of Economy, Trade and Industry Hiroshige Seko said at a press conference.

Japan has already tightened regulations early last month on its export to South Korea of three materials vital to make memory chips and display panels, which are the mainstay of the South Korean export.

Under the preferential deals which also simplified procedures, Japanese exporters can ship products and technology to 27 whitelisted countries including Argentina, Australia, Britain, Germany, New Zealand and the United States, among others.

South Korea is the first country to be excluded on Japan’s white list after gaining the status in 2004. Now Japanese companies will need to obtain case-by-case approval from Japan’s trade ministry to be able to export to South Korea.

The announcement came a day after Japanese and South Korean foreign ministers did not manage to reduce tensions between the two countries in a meeting in Bangkok, Thailand. (Xinhua=Newsis)

(190724) -- TOKYO, July 24, 2019 (Xinhua) -- Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe speaks during the "One Year to Go" ceremony celebrating one year out from the start of the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games in Tokyo, Japan, July 24, 2019. (Xinhua/Du Xiaoyi=Newsis)
(190724) — TOKYO, July 24, 2019 (Xinhua) — Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe speaks during the “One Year to Go” ceremony celebrating one year out from the start of the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games in Tokyo, Japan, July 24, 2019. (Xinhua/Du Xiaoyi=Newsis)

Japan on Monday said it should maintain an intelligence-sharing pact with South Korea despite sinking bilateral ties between both countries.

“It is important for the two countries to cooperate with each other on issues that should be dealt with in a cooperative manner,” Japan’s Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said.
Japan’s top government spokesperson did concede, however, that ties between both c
ountries are in “a very difficult situation.”

The General Security of Military Information Agreement (GSOMIA) is a bilateral military intelligence-sharing accord signed between both countries in November 2016.

The accord comes up for renewal each year, but can be cancelled by either party giving notice by Aug. 24.

Suga, however, said the deal remained significant and underscored the fact that since it was originally signed, it has been automatically renewed each year.

“We have automatically renewed the pact every year based on a recognition that it has strengthened bilateral security cooperation and contributed to peace and stability in the region,” Japan’s top government spokesperson said.

Ties between Japan and South Korea have sunk to their lowest level in recent times amid issues of wartime history and trade disputes.

Owing to Japan’s use of Korean forced laborers during its 1910-1945 colonial rule of the Korean Peninsula, South Korea’s Supreme Court has ordered some Japanese companies to pay compensation to the Korean victims.

Japan, however, maintains that the issue of wartime forced labor was resolved in a bilateral accord inked in 1965 between both parties and believes that Seoul has not cooperated with the setting up of an arbitration panel to address the matter.

Japan then tightened its export controls on three key materials widely imported by South Korea and used in the manufacturing of semiconductors and panels for TVs and smartphones.

Seoul maintains the stricter export controls imposed by Tokyo earlier this month were retaliation for the perceived lack of cooperation on arbitration for the wartime labor dispute, although Tokyo has insisted the move was made for reasons of national security.

As the rift between both sides widens, Japan said it will decide early next month whether to remove South Korea from its list of countries given preferential treatment when it comes to purchasing particular products that could also be used for military purposes.

The decision by Japan on whether to remove South Korea from its preferential “white list” will be made on Aug. 2 and will likely take effect from later the same month, sources close to the matter said.

If Japan goes ahead with the move, which will be endorsed by the Cabinet of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, it will be the first time a country has been removed from Japan’s white list.

Seoul has been on the white list since 2004 and has been guaranteed preferential treatment in terms of importing certain products from Japan.

Suga said late last week that the trade ministry is still conducting reviews of public sentiment here towards removing South Korea from its white list and maintained that nothing had been formally decided as yet.

Japan has a total of 27 countries on its whitelist, including the United States, Britain, Germany, Australia, New Zealand and Argentina, and whitelisted countries can, through simplified procedures, receive products exported from Japan that could be potentially be diverted for military use.

In order to export the products to countries not on the white list, the countries need to obtain approval from Japan’s trade ministry. (Xinhua=Newsis)

Leaders of the G20 pose for a family photo at the G20 Summit in Osaka, Japan on Friday June 28, 2019. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld=Newsis)
Leaders of the G20 pose for a family photo at the G20 Summit in Osaka, Japan on Friday June 28, 2019. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld=Newsis)

World leaders attending a Group of 20 summit in Japan that began Friday are clashing over the values that have served for decades as the foundation of their cooperation as they face calls to fend off threats to economic growth.

“A free and open economy is the basis for peace and prosperity,” Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe told his counterparts in opening the two-day G-20 meeting that comes as leaders grapple with profound tensions over trade, globalization and the collapsing nuclear deal with Iran.

While groups like the G-20 endeavor to forge consensus on broad policy approaches and geopolitical issues, the rifts between them run both shallow and deep.

Speaking before the formal opening of the summit, European Union President Donald Tusk blasted Russian President Vladimir Putin for saying in an interview with the Financial Times newspaper that liberalism was “obsolete” and conflicts with the “overwhelming majority” in many countries.

“We are here as Europeans also to firmly and unequivocally defend and promote liberal democracy,” Tusk told reporters. “What I find really obsolete are: authoritarianism, personality cults, the rule of oligarchs. Even if sometimes they may seem effective.”

As U.S. President Donald Trump, Chinese President Xi Jinping, Putin and other leaders met on the sidelines of the summit, Tusk told reporters that such comments suggest a belief that “freedoms are obsolete, that the rule of law is obsolete and that human rights are obsolete.”

Putin praised Trump for his efforts to try to stop the flow of migrants and drugs from Mexico and said that liberalism “presupposes that nothing needs to be done. That migrants can kill, plunder and rape with impunity because their rights as migrants have to be protected.”

A planned meeting between Trump and the Chinese president on Saturday as the G-20 meetings conclude has raised hopes for a detente in the tariffs war between the world’s two largest economies.

U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer and Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross accompanied Trump to Osaka, suggesting potential for some movement after 11 rounds of talks stalled in May.
But while prospects for detente in the trade war are in the spotlight, many participating were urging a broader perspective in tackling global crises.

“I am deeply concerned over the current global economic situation. The world is paying attention to the direction we, the G-20 leaders, are moving toward,” Abe said. “We need to send strong message, which is to support and strengthen a free, fair and indiscriminatory trade system.”

A major breakthrough in the standoff is not assured. On Thursday, a Chinese foreign ministry spokesman in Beijing reiterated that China is determined to defend itself against further U.S. moves to penalize it over trade friction. China often has sought to gain support for defending global trade agreements against Trump’s “America First” stance in gatherings like the G-20.

Threats by Trump to impose more tariffs on Chinese exports “won’t work on us because the Chinese people don’t believe in heresy and are not afraid of pressure,” the spokesman, Geng Shuang, said.

Trump has at times found himself at odds with other leaders in such international events, particularly on issues such as Iran, climate change and trade.

Abe has sought to make the Osaka summit a landmark for progress on environmental issues, including climate change, on cooperation in developing new rules for the “digital economy,” such as devising fair ways to tax companies like Google and Facebook, and on strengthening precautions against abuse of technologies such as cyber-currencies to fund terrorism and other types of internet-related crimes.

On the rising tensions between Iran and the U.S., U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said the world can’t afford the conflict and it was “essential to deescalate the situation” and avoid confrontation. Iran is soon poised to surpass a key uranium stockpile threshold, threatening the nuclear accord it reached with world powers in 2015.

Iran’s moves come after Trump announced in May 2018 that he was pulling the U.S. out of the deal and reimposing economic sanctions on Tehran.

Guterres also urged G-20 leaders to take action on equitable and stable reforms to strengthen the global financial safety net and increase the global economy’s resilience.

Guterres said in a letter to the leaders gathered in Osaka that although the world has made progress fixing some big problems, it’s not happening fast enough or shared by all countries.

While there are good plans and vision, what’s needed are “accelerated actions, not more deliberations,” he said.

Fast and equal economic growth should be constructed so that people who live in “the `rust belts’ of the world are not left behind,” he said.

The leaders of Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa, in a meeting on the G-20 sidelines, called for joint efforts to stabilize international trade and oppose protectionism.

Putin, whose country faces an array of U.S. and EU sanctions, said at the meeting that “international trade has suffered from protectionism, politically motivated restrictions and barriers.” Putin also emphasized the need for BRICS nations to take coordinated action to help block sources of funding for terrorist groups. (AP=Newsis)