Myanmar army chief to get five year extension as talks with Suu Kyi continue-media

2016-02-13 10:31:05

YANGON Myanmar's powerful army chief Min Aung Hlaing and his deputy are slated to extend their terms for another five years, a local newspaper said on Saturday, as the military and democracy champion Aung San Suu Kyi negotiate the terms of transition.The move means Min Aung Hlaing has consolidated his power base among the military leadership and would allow the army to avoid a top-level reshuffle at this sensitive period. It will also boost Min Aung Hlaing's position in talks with Suu Kyi.Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy (NLD) defeated army-backed Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP) in the November election, kicking off a lengthy transition that will end on April 1 when the new government's term begins.The NLD's massive election win means it will be able to push through its presidential candidate during a vote in parliament on March 17. Still, it has to deal with the military, which is guaranteed 25 percent of seats in parliament and three security ministries under the junta-drafted constitution. Details of the talks between the NLD and the army remain murky."Senior General Min Aung Hlaing, who is turning 60 soon, will take the duty of the commander-in-chief for five more years," said the Voice newspaper, citing a military source based in the country's capital Naypyitaw. It added that Min Aung Hlaing's deputy, Soe Win, will also get a five year extension. "The decisions were announced at the recent quarterly meeting of top-level military officials," said the paper citing the same source. The Voice is typically correct when it comes to news on Myanmar's military. Military sources contacted by Reuters were not immediately available for comment.The newspaper did not clarify the legal basis for the move and it did not explain whether the decision would require an approval by the president. Myanmar's opaque and imprecise constitution has confused lawmakers and experts over whether the army chief would need permission from the president, or a change of law, to obtain an extension. Current regulations stipulate that the army chief has to retire at 60.On Thursday, Myanmar's outgoing President Thein Sein has at the last minute canceled plans to attend the U.S.-ASEAN summit in California next week, giving no reasons for the decision. After two busy weeks after the NLD-dominated parliament opened on Feb.1, Myanmar's lawmakers are in for a quieter week from Monday, as they undergo induction and training organized by the parliament and international organizations supporting the development of democracy in Myanmar. (Reporting by Aung Hla Tun and Hnin Yadana Zaw; Editing by Michael Perry)

WHO sees Zika link proven in weeks as U.S., India lead vaccine race

2016-02-12 16:31:05

GENEVA/LONDON Suspected links between the Zika virus and two neurological disorders, microcephaly in babies and Guillain-Barre syndrome, should be confirmed within weeks, the World Health Organization (WHO) said on Friday.A sharp increase in birth defects in Brazil has triggered a global health emergency over the mosquito-borne virus and spurred a race to develop a vaccine and better diagnostic tests.The WHO said U.S. government scientists and an Indian biotechnology firm were currently frontrunners in the race to develop a vaccine and for the first time it advised pregnant women to consider delaying travel to Zika-infected areas."It seems indeed that the link with Zika (and microcephaly) is becoming more and more probable, so I think that we need a few more weeks and a few more studies to have this straight," Marie-Paule Kieny, WHO Assistant Director-General for Health Systems and Innovation, told a news briefing.Studies of pregnant Latin American women who are confirmed as having had the Zika virus and due to deliver their babies soon should yield evidence, Kieny said, adding data was also being collected from studies in French Polynesia and Cape Verde.Kieny said areas hit by the Zika virus had also seen increased cases of the neurological disease Guillain-Barre, adding: "The direct causality has still to be demonstrated but the association in time and in location seems to be clear."Guillain-Barre syndrome, in which the body's immune system attacks part of the nervous system, causes gradual weakness in the legs, arms and upper body and sometimes total paralysis. In a statement the WHO reiterated it was not recommending any general travel or trade restrictions related to the Zika virus, but added: "Women who are pregnant should discuss their travel plans with their health care provider and consider delaying travel to any area where locally acquired Zika infection is occurring."Brazil, center of the Zika outbreak that has spread to more than 30 countries, is hosting the Rio 2016 Olympics. CLINICAL TRIALS On vaccines, Kieny said it would take at least 18 months to start large-scale clinical trials of candidate shots."Two vaccine candidates seem to be more advanced: a DNA vaccine from the U.S. National Institutes for Health (NIH) and an inactivated product from Bharat Biotech in India," she said.The NIH is working on a DNA-based vaccine that uses the same approach as one being developed for West Nile virus. India's Bharat said last week its experimental vaccine would start pre-clinical trials in animals imminently. Overall, around 15 groups are working on Zika vaccines, including France's Sanofi (SASY.PA), as well as researchers in Brazil, who announced a new partnership with the University of Texas on Thursday.The road to developing a preventative shot against the disease is strewn with hurdles, however, not least because the group viewed as most at risk are pregnant women.Improved diagnostic tests are also viewed as critical to fighting the disease and Kieny said new test kits were being rapidly developed and could be available in weeks.Researchers in Brazil are scrambling to determine whether Zika has caused a major rise in microcephaly, or abnormally small heads in newborns, with more than 4,000 suspected cases of the condition reported to date. Brazil has confirmed more than 400 of those cases as microcephaly and has identified the presence of Zika in 17 babies, but a link has yet to be proven.Still, many scientists are convinced that the link is real and new evidence of Zika in the brain of an aborted fetus, reported on Wednesday, has added to the case. (Reporting by Stephanie Nebehay in Geneva and Ben Hirschler in London; Editing by Kevin Liffey and Gareth Jones)

North Korea feels global pressure but not completely ostracized

2016-02-11 10:01:06

SEOUL From building statues and training police in Africa to trading with India and Thailand, North Korea is managing to maintain business ties and friendly diplomatic relations with a dwindling number of Cold War-era friends.That is despite being cut off from much of the world for conducting a decade of banned rocket and nuclear tests, including the launch of a rocket last weekend that North Korea says put a satellite into space. The United States and its allies saw the launch as a missile test.Indeed, Pyongyang has been squeezed by layers of U.N. sanctions since 2006 targeting its once-lucrative arms trade and the flow of money that financed its weapons program. China, North Korea's most important ally, as well as Russia have signed up to U.N. Security Council sanctions over the missile and nuclear tests.Votes in the U.N. General Assembly over the past decade censuring Pyongyang on human rights also show ebbing global support. Thailand, which had abstained from voting on six resolutions against North Korea has since 2011 voted in favor of the three on which votes were recorded.Botswana severed diplomatic ties with North Korea in 2014, linking its decision to a U.N. report on crimes against humanity in North Korea, while Indonesia switched in 2010 from voting against North Korea human rights resolutions to abstaining, according to U.N. records.Still, the country has enjoyed consistent backing in U.N. General Assembly votes on human rights from a core group including Belarus, Cuba, Egypt, Iran, Syria, Vietnam, Zimbabwe and Venezuela, which is currently part of the 15-member Security Council, as well as from China and Russia.Much of North Korea's support is from fellow members of the Cold War-era Non-Aligned Movement, with which it trades in goods and services. Besides China, which accounts for 90 percent of its trade, North Korea's biggest trading partners in recent years include Russia, India and Thailand, according to South Korean government data through to 2014. It has imported Indian dyes and paints, Russian mineral oil and Thai rubber, and sold electronic components to India and clothes to Russia. India exported precious metals and stones worth nearly $2 million to North Korea in 2014, up from $103,000 in 2013, said a report by the U.N. Security Council's Panel of Experts on North Korea, which monitors implementation of sanctions.The report, seen by Reuters on Tuesday, said India told it the exports did not violate a ban on luxury goods entering North Korea.  STATUES AND SMUGGLINGWhen North Korea set out to forge diplomatic ties in newly independent African countries, founding leader Kim Il Sung provided financial and military support. It has also sent artists and construction engineers to Africa to build public artworks to earn revenue. A $27 million North Korea-built bronze statue called the Monument of African Renaissance that opened in 2010 in Senegal stands taller than the Statue of Liberty."In the 1950s and 1960s, North Korea made much more progress on the diplomatic front than South Korea," said Yoon Hae-joong, South Korea's ambassador to Indonesia between 2003 and 2005, describing North Korea's diplomatic relationships as mostly about form and symbolism, not substance. Last year, a report by the U.N. expert panel noted police cooperation between North Korea and Uganda, with the North Koreans providing training on the use of AK-47s and pistols.The latest report said training was continuing as of December.Uganda has abstained from voting on all nine U.N. General Assembly resolutions on North Korean human rights for which votes were counted since 2005, a record mirrored by countries including India, Ethiopia, Nigeria, Mali and Qatar.Hong Soon-kyung, a North Korean defector, said that when he worked as a counselor at Pyongyang's embassy in Bangkok during the 1990s, he imported Thai rice for his famine-stricken homeland and did business for a North Korean biometric firm, which he said was funded by a Singaporean businessman."North Korea opened up a state fingerprint firm's branch to make money out of fingerprint keys," said Hong, who also served in Pakistan, where he says he sold expensive duty-free liquor to local merchants, before defecting to the South in 2000.North Korea has 53 embassies and overseas missions, according to South Korean government data, some of which have been notorious for engaging in business, including illicit activities. Last year, Bangladesh expelled a North Korean diplomat caught smuggling $1.4 million worth of gold. (Additional reporting by James Pearson and Jee Heun Kahng in Seoul and Louis Charbonneau at the United Nations; Editing by Tony Munroe and Dean Yates)

Baby dies in Los Angeles shooting after bullet pierces wall

2016-02-10 17:01:06

LOS ANGELES A one-year-old girl was killed on Tuesday when a bullet from an apparent gang-related shooting pierced the wall of her Los Angeles home and struck her in the head, law enforcement officers said.The toddler was in her crib when a gunman opened fire on a converted garage in Compton, south of downtown Los Angeles, the County Sheriff's Department said. The gunman and the driver of a getaway car were being sought, officials said. The shooting appeared to be gang-related, a spokeswoman for the sheriff said. The area is one of the most violent in Los Angeles County, with 475 violent crimes, including eight homicides, in the past six months, data compiled by the Los Angeles Times shows. (Reporting by Victoria Cavaliere; editing by John Stonestreet)

Obama to propose $200 million to battle Islamic State in Africa

2016-02-09 20:01:05

WASHINGTON Feb 9 President Barack Obama is proposing about $200 million in new military spending to confront Islamic State in north and west Africa, U.S. defense officials said ahead of Tuesday's budget rollouts for the next fiscal year.U.S. officials declined to specify to which nations the funding would be directed. The disclosure comes as the United States and its allies discuss ways to halt the spread of the Sunni militant group in Libya and elsewhere in Africa from its self-declared caliphate in Syria and Iraq.The proposed increase in U.S. defense spending for north and west Africa is a component of a larger $7.5 billion Pentagon request for fiscal year 2017 to counter Islamic State."The marginal increase is on the order of about $200 million associated with north Africa," one U.S. defense official said, speaking on condition of anonymity to a small group of reporters.Another U.S. defense official told Reuters the funds would also be directed to west Africa. U.S. Defense Secretary Ash Carter last week announced his intention to ramp up spending to counter Islamic State as he unveiled the broad details of Obama's proposed $582.7 billion defense budget. Carter said he would seek further war funding later if needed.A key component of the $7.5 billion would go to munitions. Carter said the United States has used so many smart bombs and laser-guided rockets in Iraq and Syria that it is running low and needs to invest $1.8 billion for 45,000 more. The Air Force budget includes about 4,500 small diameter bombs, doubling the previous year's purchase. It also calls for more than 30,000 Boeing Co. Joint Direct Attack Munition tail kits, which turn unguided bombs into all-weather smart munitions using GPS guidance systems, compared to about 22,000 the previous year. The Navy is slated to buy 100 Hellfire missiles built by Lockheed Martin Corp, with the Air Force planning to buy around 280.The U.S. officials also said some of the $7.5 billion would go toward training and equipping Iraqi forces and fighters in Syria to counter Islamic State.Lieutenant General Vincent Stewart, director of the Defense Intelligence Agency, warned on Monday of the group's expansion to Libya, Egypt's Sinai Peninsula, Nigeria, Algeria and elsewhere. The United States has a limited permanent military presence in Africa, largely centered on a U.S. base in Djibouti.Islamic State forces have attacked Libya's oil infrastructure and taken control of the city of Sirte, exploiting a power vacuum in which two rival governments have been battling for supremacy.The Pentagon has said that planning is underway to confront the group in Libya, although significant political hurdles could slow any new campaign by the U.S. and its allies there.Carter will meet with allies in Brussels this week to discuss ways to accelerate the campaign against Islamic State. (Additional reporting by Yeganeh Torbati and Andrea Shalal; Editing by Warren Strobel and Stuart Grudgings)

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