Jumaat, 31 Januari 2014

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The Star Online: World Updates

Thai protesters join final anti-govt march before election

Posted: 31 Jan 2014 07:25 PM PST

BANGKOK (Reuters) - Anti-government protesters gathered in Bangkok's busy tourist area of Chinatown for the third and final day of marches in the capital denouncing Thailand's general election on Sunday amid fears of violence erupting during the vote.

The government is pushing ahead with the election, despite protesters' threats to disrupt the vote and stop Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra's Puea Thai Party from returning to power.

Protest leader Suthep Thaugsuban has called for a peaceful blockade of roads in the city, but in the same breath has vowed not to stop people voting.

Any bloodshed would further undermine the credibility of a vote that is deemed incapable of restoring stability in the polarised country.

"The people will not close the polling booths, but will demonstrate on the roads. They will demonstrate calmly, peacefully, without violence. If anyone comes to try to cause trouble, we absolutely will not argue with them. We won't do anything that will hinder people from going to vote," Suthep said on Friday night.

"In the south, for those who are surrounding the places where ballots are being collected, surround them as usual, but I ask that you sit there peacefully, don't back down, don't run away, and do not fight them, just pray. I believe that this poll will be voided for sure."

The Nation newspaper said protesters were camping at post offices to block the delivery of ballot papers in the south, where support for Suthep is strongest.

Many protesters in Bangkok wore red, the colour of Yingluck's "red shirt" supporters, in Saturday's march, after Suthep said no one had the right to hijack a colour.

"In honour of Chinese New Year, let's wear red on our walk in Yaowaraj (Chinatown)," said Suthep, wearing a festive red Chinese shirt.

The United Nations in Thailand called for a peaceful vote. Ten people have died and at least 577 have been wounded in politically related violence since late November, according to the Erawan Medical Center, which monitors Bangkok hospitals.

The anti-government protesters took to the streets in November in the latest round of an eight-year conflict between Bangkok's middle class, southern Thais and the royalist establishment against the mostly poor, rural supporters of Yingluck and her brother, former premier Thaksin Shinawatra, who was ousted in 2006.

The main opposition Democrat party, which backs the anti-government protests, is boycotting the election, which Yingluck's party is bound to win, though without enough members to achieve a quorum in parliament, guaranteeing further stalemate, at best, even if the election passes off peacefully.

The protesters, camped out at major intersections in the city and blocking key arteries, forced polling stations in 49 of Bangkok's 50 districts to shut last weekend and voting could only go ahead in three of 15 southern provinces. Some voters were physically pulled away from the polling booths.

Suthep wants to rid the country of the Shinawatra family's political influence and accuses Yingluck, who swept to power in the last election in 2011, of being Thaksin's puppet.

The protesters say Thaksin is a corrupt crony capitalist who commandeered Thailand's fragile democracy, using taxpayers' money to buy votes with populist giveaways. Thaksin has chosen to live abroad since 2008 to avoid a jail term for graft.

He or his allies have won every election since 2001. His supporters say he was the first Thai political leader to keep campaign promises to help the poor.

Suthep wants to set up a "people's council" of notable worthies, before another election is held.

The prolonged unrest has hurt tourism and the central bank says the economy may grow only 3 percent this year rather than the 4 percent it had forecast.

Exports have not been hit hard, but the Commerce Ministry said shipments grew by an anaemic 1.9 percent in December from a year before.

(Writing by Nick Macfie; Editing by Clarence Fernandez)

Indian diplomat's claim of immunity challenged by U.S. prosecutors

Posted: 31 Jan 2014 07:20 PM PST

NEW YORK (Reuters) - The Indian diplomat whose December arrest led to a major international dispute holds no immunity from U.S. prosecution and should continue to faces charges of visa fraud, Manhattan federal prosecutors said in court papers filed Friday.

Devyani Khobragade was arrested on December 12 on charges that she lied to U.S. authorities about what she paid her housekeeper. She was stripped-searched while detained in Manhattan federal courthouse, which led to a diplomatic firestorm between India and the United States that continued for weeks.

Manhattan U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara's office argues in the court filings that Khobragade is a former diplomat and not immune from prosecution.

Khobragade "currently enjoys no diplomatic status, and at the time of her arrest, the defendant's position as a consular official gave her immunity from prosecution for official acts only," assistant U.S. Attorneys Kristy Greenberg and Amanda Kramer wrote.

As Indian officials demanded her release, Khobragade's New York attorney argued that her status as a consular official granted her immunity.

Khobragade was accredited as a member of India's mission to the United Nations earlier this month, one day before she was indicted and asked to leave the country.

The accreditation was part of a deal to allow her to leave the country.

On January 14, with Khobragade back in India, her New York-based attorney filed a motion asking a U.S. judge to throw out those charges.

In court papers, Khobragade attorney Daniel Arshack said that diplomatic immunity granted to her by the U.S. State Department gave her absolute immunity from U.S. prosecution, even for suspected acts committed earlier.

Kerry asks Russia to pressure Syria on faster chemical arms removal

Posted: 31 Jan 2014 03:35 PM PST

MUNICH (Reuters) - U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry asked Russia's foreign minister on Friday to put pressure on the Syrian government to accelerate the removal of chemical weapons, which Kerry said is not happening quickly enough.

Kerry met Russia's Sergei Lavrov on the sidelines of the Munich Security Conference to discuss what Washington considered to be "unacceptable" progress in moving Syrian chemical weapons, said a senior U.S. State Department official who spoke on condition of anonymity.

"Secretary Kerry pressed Foreign Minister Lavrov to push the regime for more progress on moving the remaining chemical weapons within Syria to the port in Latakia," the official said.

Reuters reported this week that Syria has given up less than 5 percent of its chemical weapons arsenal of roughly 1,300 tonnes of toxic agents and will miss next week's deadline to send all toxic agents abroad for destruction.

The State Department confirmed on Thursday that just 4 percent of Syria's deadliest chemical agents had been shipped out of the country for destruction at sea.

Under a deal agreed by Russia and the United States after a sarin gas attack last August which killed hundreds of people, Syria promised to give up its stockpile by mid-2014. The operation, overseen by a joint mission with the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons and the United Nations, is six to eight weeks behind schedule.

Failure to eliminate its chemical weapons could expose Syria to sanctions, although these would have to be supported in the U.N. Security Council by Russia and China, which have so far refused to back such measures against President Bashar al-Assad.

Parallel to Kerry's meeting with Lavrov, the White House said it was working with partners to ratchet up pressure on the Assad government on the chemical weapons.

Russia earlier rejected U.S. claims that Syria is dragging its feet on giving up chemical weapons, saying that a June 30 deadline to destroy Assad's arsenal of toxic agents remains viable despite delays.

Syria, where civil war has killed more than 100,000 people and forced millions to flee, blames delays on security obstacles.

Kerry and Lavrov also met in Munich with U.N. chief Ban Ki Moon and U.N. mediator Lakhdar Brahimi, who later told a panel on Syria at the conference that the first public talks between the Syrian government and opposition in Geneva this week had made "no progress.

"We have failed somewhere. We can say it is an intractable problem, it is difficult. But somewhere there is a failure," he said, adding that he hoped the talks would resume in Geneva on February 10 in a "more constructive" mood.

(Additional reporting by Lesley Wroughton in Washington; Editing by Amanda Kwan)

Kredit: www.thestar.com.my

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