TPM World News

BRUSSELS (AP) — Britain and Russia accused each other of duplicity and untrustworthiness Wednesday, with London rejecting any possibility of a joint probe involving Moscow into the poisoning of an ex-Russian spy and his daughter in England.

At a special meeting to discuss the case at the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons in The Hague, the Netherlands, the British envoy said that a joint investigation, as proposed by Russia, would force “a victim to engage the likely perpetrator.”

Acting U.K. Permanent Representative John Foggo said that “to do so would be perverse,” adding that Moscow’s demand showed “disdain.”

Britain, backed by its European and U.S. partners, has blamed Russia for the March 4 nerve agent attack on Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia in the city of Salisbury, an accusation that Russia vehemently denies.

Wednesday’s meeting at the international chemical weapons control body was called at the request of Moscow, which has pushed for Britain to provide evidence backing its claim that Russia was responsible.

On Tuesday, the chief of Britain’s defense laboratory said its scientists haven’t tracked down the “precise source” of the nerve agent used in the attack. Britain had earlier identified the agent as a Soviet-developed type known as Novichok.

Russian President Vladimir Putin had quickly pointed at the statement as proof that British accusations against Russia were baseless. He noted that at least 20 other nations now have the capacity to produce Novichok.

Asked Wednesday if Russia expects an apology from Britain, Putin said “we are not expecting anything like that.”

“We are just expecting reason to prevail so that international relations don’t sustain damage like what we have seen recently,” he said after a summit in Ankara, Turkey.

“This not only concerns the assassination attempt on Skripal, but also all other aspects of international relations,” he said. “We need to work within the framework of sound political processes, founded on fundamental norms of international law, and this will make the world a more stable and predictable place.”

The poisoning has plunged relations between the West and Russia to their lowest ebb since the Cold War, with more than two dozen Western allies expelling over 150 Russian diplomats in a show of solidarity with Britain and Russia responding in kind.

In Moscow, Russia’s spymaster claimed the poisoning was staged by U.K. and U.S. intelligence agencies.

Sergei Naryshkin, director of Russia’s Foreign Intelligence Service, the top KGB successor agency, said the poisoning was a “grotesque provocation rudely staged by the British and U.S. intelligence agencies.”

Naryshkin said the poisoning was the latest example of the U.S.-led efforts to undermine Russia, adding that the Russia-West chill is comparable to the Cold War.

Meanwhile the 28-nation EU, of which Britain is still a member, lamented Moscow’s refusal to give information to Britain.

“Instead, we witnessed a flood of insinuations” targeting several EU member states, envoy Krassimir Kostov of Bulgaria, which currently holds the EU presidency, told the council meeting.

In a separate speech on the use of chemical weapons Wednesday, a British diplomatic official condemned Russia for flouting international rules and hurting the chemical weapons watchdog.

“Russia repeatedly sought to undermine the OPCW – the very organization set up to put an end to the barbarity of chemical weapons attacks,” Alistair Burt, minister of state for the Middle East, said.

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BEIJING (AP) — China on Wednesday vowed to impose measures of the “same strength” in response to a proposed U.S. tariff hike on $50 billion worth of Chinese goods in a spiraling technology dispute that has fueled fears it might set back the global economic recovery.

The Commerce Ministry said it would immediately challenge the U.S. move in the World Trade Organization.

“At the same time, we are preparing to take measures of the same strength and same scope against U.S. goods,” said a ministry statement. “These measures will be announced shortly.”

The clash reflects growing tension between President Donald Trump’s promises to narrow the multibillion-dollar U.S. trade deficit with China and the ruling Communist Party’s development plans. Those include using access to China’s vast market as leverage to induce foreign automakers and other companies to help create or improve industry and technology.

Beijing was reacting to a U.S. announcement Tuesday of a list of Chinese goods targeted for a tariff hike previously approved by Trump. They include medical, aerospace and information technology.

The U.S. Trade Representative’s Office said those products benefit from Chinese policies that including requiring foreign companies to hand over technology in violation of Beijing’s free-trade commitments.

Chinese officials have given no indication what U.S. goods might be targeted in response but businesspeople and economists have cited Boeing jetliners and soybeans as possible targets.

The dispute has fueled fears it might set back the global recovery if other governments are prompted to raise their own import barriers.

Asian governments will closely watch Beijing’s reaction in a dispute that “may compel countries to pick sides,” said Weiliang Chang of Mizuho Bank in a report.

On Wednesday, Asian stock markets were mixed. Market benchmarks in Hong Kong and Tokyo were off 0.2 percent at midday but the Shanghai Composite Index rose 0.8 percent.

American companies have long chafed under Chinese regulations that require them to operate through local partners and share technology with potential competitors in exchange for market access. Business groups say companies feel increasingly unwelcome in China’s state-dominated economy and are being squeezed out of promising industries.

Chinese policies “coerce American companies into transferring their technology and intellectual property to domestic Chinese enterprises,” said a USTR statement.

A USTR report released Tuesday also cited complaints Beijing uses cyber spying to steal foreign business secrets, but it was unclear whether the latest tariff hike was in response to that.

In a separate dispute, Beijing raised tariffs Monday on a $3 billion list of U.S. goods including pork, apples and steel pipe in response a higher American import duties on steel and aluminum.

The technology-related tariffs are more sensitive for President Xi Jinping’s government because they strike at industries seen by communist leaders as vital for China’s future development.

Companies have warned Trump’s action might hurt U.S. companies and consumers.

“The administration is rightly focused on restoring equity and fairness in our trade relationship with China,” said the executive vice president of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, Myron Brilliant, in a statement. “However, imposing taxes on products used daily by American consumers and job creators is not the way to achieve those ends.”

The USTR also launched a WTO case last month challenging Chinese policies it said unfairly limit foreign companies’ ability to control their technology.

U.S. authorities say Beijing denies foreign companies the right to block use of technology by a Chinese entity once a licensing period ends and imposes contract terms that are less favorable than for local technology.

Foreign companies are increasingly alarmed by initiatives such as Beijing’s long-range industry development plan, dubbed “Made in China 2025,” which calls for creating Chinese global leaders in electric cars, robots and other fields. Foreign companies complain that strategy appears to limit or outright block access to those industries.

Beijing reported a trade surplus of $275.8 billion with the United States last year, or two-thirds of Beijing’s global total. Washington reports different figures that put the gap at a record $375.2 billion.

China has accused Trump of damaging the global system of trade regulation by taking action under U.S. law instead of through the WTO. The Commerce Ministry’s statement Wednesday criticized the latest moves as “a typical unilateralist and protectionist practice.”

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MOSCOW (AP) — Top Russian defense and security officials are accusing the West of fomenting a new Cold War in a bid to retain waning influence in global affairs.

Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu says NATO is using “the non-existent Russian threat to methodically boost its military potential” and beef up its forces near Russia’s borders.

Speaking at a security conference Wednesday, Shoigu said Moscow will respond to NATO’s moves by strengthening its defense capabilities to “ensure military security of Russia and its allies.”

Russia-West relations have sunk to their lowest level since the Cold War following Moscow’s 2014 annexation of Crimea and support for separatists in eastern Ukraine. Tensions further escalated this month after the poisoning of an ex-Russian spy in Britain, leading to mass diplomats’ expulsions by the West and Russia.

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LONDON (AP) — Global stock markets fell for a second day Tuesday as investors continued to fret over a looming trade war between the U.S. and China and mounting public scrutiny of technology companies.

Stocks have been trending lower for weeks largely because of a series of tariffs announced by U.S. President Donald Trump and the Facebook data privacy scandal, which has raised the prospect of tighter regulation for social media and other tech stocks.

In the last week, Trump has also tweeted repeatedly about his new favorite foe, Amazon, whose owner also owns The Washington Post, which has been critical of the Trump administration.

Trump has approved possible higher U.S. duties on $50 billion of Chinese goods in response to complaints that Beijing steals or pressures foreign companies to hand over technology. Those tariffs come on top of previous proposals to raise tariffs on imported steel and aluminum.

In response, China announced it is raising tariffs on $3 billion of U.S. goods including pork, apples and steel pipe, increasing the risk of a broader conflict that might depress global trade.

“The mood remains decidedly bearish, and there is certainly no shortage of reasons to be fearful,” said Chris Beauchamp, chief market analyst at IG. “It’s times like this when investors face a choice — whether to sit and await developments or plunge back in.”

That was evident in the performance of stocks on Tuesday.

Returning from the long Easter holiday weekend, Europe’s stock markets tracked others lower, though the scale of the losses were diminished by expectations of a rebound on Wall Street later.

In Europe, Germany’s DAX fell 0.8 percent to 11,999 while London’s FTSE 100 declined 0.2 percent to 7,037. France’s CAC 40 was 0.5 percent lower at 5,140.

Wall Street was poised for some solid gains at the open Tuesday with Dow futures and the broader S&P 500 futures up 0.5 percent. On Monday, the S&P posted its worst start to a quarter since October 2011 and saw the index fall below its 200-day moving average for the first time in almost 2 years.

U.S. technology companies are in the spotlight, notably Amazon, which posted hefty losses of around 5 percent Monday after Trump again voiced his concerns about the company on Twitter.

The sector was already in the gaze of investors after Facebook’s data scandal last month that has raised the prospect of heightened regulation. Netflix, Microsoft and Google parent Alphabet have all seen their share prices decline.

“Pressure on the sector doesn’t appear to be going away in the near-term which will continue to act as a drag on indices,” said Craig Erlam, senior market analyst at OANDA.

Earlier in Asia, the Shanghai Composite Index lost 0.8 percent to 3,163.63 and Tokyo’s Nikkei 225 shed 0.4 percent to 21,292.29. Sydney’s S&P-ASX 200 declined 0.1 percent to 5,751.90. Elsewhere, Seoul’s Kospi ended down 27 points at 2,442.43. Hong Kong’s Hang Seng bucked the trend, ending up 0.2 percent at 30,137.49.

Elsewhere, the euro was flat at $1.23 while the dollar rose 0.3 percent to 106.23 yen. In the oil markets, a barrel of U.S. crude gained 22 cents to $63.23 per barrel in electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange while Bren crude, used to price international oils, rose 29 cents to $67.93 in London.

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CAIRO (AP) — Egypt’s election commission says President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi has won a second, four-year term with more than 97 percent of the vote in last week’s election, with turnout of 41.05 percent.

El-Sissi faced no serious challenger, after a string of potentially strong candidates withdrew under pressure or were arrested. His sole opponent, little-known politician Moussa Mustafa Moussa, was a supporter of the president who made no effort to challenge him. He won 2.92 percent of the vote.

Lasheen Ibrahim, the head of the election commission, announced the results Monday.

Authorities went to great lengths to boost turnout, using the state’s vast resources to get voters out and threatening to fine anyone boycotting the election.

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ANKARA, Turkey (AP) — A Turkish court has issued arrest warrants for a U.S.-based Muslim cleric and seven other people for their alleged involvement in the killing of Russia’s ambassador to Turkey, the country’s state-run news agency reported Monday.

An off-duty police officer fatally shot Ambassador Andrei Karlov while he was speaking at the opening of a photo exhibition in the Turkish capital on Dec. 19, 2016. The officer, Mevlut Mert Altintas, was later shot dead at the scene by police.

The court in Ankara issued warrants for cleric Fethullah Gulen and seven people allegedly tied to his religious movement on charges of attempting to “destroy the constitutional order” and “pre-meditated murder,” Anadolu Agency reported.

Turkish authorities have alleged that Karlov’s killer had links to Gulen, whom Turkey also accuses of masterminding a failed July 2016 coup and wants extradited from the United States. Gulen, who has lived in the U.S. since 1999, has denied involvement in the coup attempt.

Turkey believes that Gulen’s movement was also behind Karlov’s assassination, maintaining that it was aimed at derailing warming relations between Turkey and Russia.

Nine people, including three former police officers, have already been arrested over the killing.

The warrants were issued as Russian President Vladimir Putin prepares to make a two-day trip to Ankara. Putin is scheduled to meet with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Tuesday. They are set to be joined by Iranian President Hassan Rouhani on Wednesday for a summit on Syria’s future.

Associated Press photographer Burhan Ozbilici won the 2017 World Press Photo competition for his image of the gun-wielding policeman standing over the body of the Russian ambassador immediately after he shot Karlov.

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MOSCOW (AP) — The Russian Foreign Ministry asked the international agency that monitors chemical weapons for information Sunday about the investigation of the poisoning of a former Russian spy and his daughter in England.A list of questions submitted to the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons includes what sort of assistance Britain requested from the watchdog agency and which sampling procedures were used to collect the substance that sickened Sergei Skripal and his daughter, Yulia.OPCW representatives were among a group of experts Britain asked to analyze the chemical agent involved in the poisonings. Britain claims it was the Soviet-manufactured nerve agent Novichok and has said Russia is likely responsible, which Moscow adamantly denies.

The Foreign Ministry’s request came on the same day that Russian diplomats and their families returned to Moscow on two planes after being expelled from the United States, part of the international fallout from the March 4 attack on the Skripals.

Following a wave of similar expulsions ordered by Britain and numerous allies, the United States ordered 60 Russian diplomats out of the country.

Russian news agencies said the diplomats kicked out of the United States returned on two flights that landed Sunday at Moscow’s Vnukovo Airport.

One carried diplomats from the Russian Embassy in Washington; aboard the other were diplomats from the Russian Consulate in New York and Russia’s United Nations mission.

More than two dozen countries and NATO have expelled Russian diplomats in support of Britain. Russia has ordered an equal number of most of those countries’ diplomats to leave and for Britain to reduce the staff at its Moscow embassy to the same number that Russia maintains in London.

Russia consistently has complained that Britain has not provided evidence to back up its claim of Russian involvement or that the poison that afflicted the Skripals was a Russia-developed nerve agent.

The Russian Foreign Ministry also submitted questions to British and French authorities on Saturday. The ministry did not say what actions Russia might take if the parties do not answer the questions or provide partial responses.

 

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BEIJING (AP) — China raised import duties on a $3 billion list of U.S. pork, apples and other products Monday in an escalating dispute with Washington over trade and industrial policy.

The government of President Xi Jinping said it was responding to a U.S. tariff hike on steel and aluminum. But that is just one facet of sprawling tensions with Washington, Europe and Japan over a state-led economic model they complain hampers market access, protects Chinese companies and subsidizes exports in violation of Beijing’s free-trade commitments.

Already, companies are looking ahead to a bigger fight over U.S. President Donald Trump’s approval of higher duties on up to $50 billion of Chinese goods in response to complaints that Beijing steals or pressures foreign companies to hand over technology.

Forecasters say the impact of Monday’s move should be limited, but investors worry the global recovery might be set back if other governments respond by raising import barriers.

On Monday, the main stock market indexes in Tokyo and Shanghai ended the day down.

The tariffs “signal a most unwelcome development, which is that countries are becoming protectionist,” said economist Taimur Baig of DBS Group. But in commercial terms, they are “not very substantial” compared with China’s $150 billion in annual imports of U.S. goods, he said.

Monday’s tariff increase will hit American farm states, many of which voted for Trump in 2016.

Beijing is imposing a 25 percent tariff on U.S. pork and aluminum scrap and 15 percent on sparkling wine, steel pipe used by oil and gas companies, and an array of fruits and nuts including apples, walnuts and grapes.

American farm exports to China in 2017 totaled nearly $20 billion, including $1.1 billion of pork products.

There was no indication whether Beijing might exempt Chinese-owned American suppliers such as Smithfield Foods, the biggest U.S. pork producer, which is ramping up exports to China.

The U.S. tariff hike has “has seriously damaged our interests,” the Finance Ministry said in a statement.

“Our country advocates and supports the multilateral trading system,” it said. China’s tariff increase “is a proper measure adopted by our country using World Trade Organization rules to protect our interests,” the statement said.

The White House didn’t respond to a message from The Associated Press on Sunday seeking comment.

The United States buys little Chinese steel and aluminum, but analysts said Beijing was certain to retaliate, partly to show its toughness ahead of possible bigger disputes.

Chinese officials have said Beijing is willing to negotiate, but in a confrontation will “fight to the end.”

“China has already prepared for the worst,” said Liu Yuanchun, executive dean of the National Academy of Development Strategy at Renmin University in Beijing. “The two sides, therefore, should sit down and negotiate.”

The dispute reflects the clash between Trump’s promise to narrow the U.S. trade surplus with China — a record $375.2 billion last year — and Beijing’s ambitious plans to develop Chinese industry and technology.

Last July, U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin complained the Chinese government’s dominant role in China’s economy was to blame for its yawning trade surplus.

State-owned companies dominate Chinese industries including oil and gas, telecoms, banking, coal mining, utilities and airlines. They benefit from monopolies and low-cost access to energy, land and bank loans.

The ruling Communist Party promised in 2013 to give market forces the “decisive role” in allocating resources. But at the same time, Xi has affirmed plans to build up state industries the party says are the central pillar of the economy.

“The thing that is going to be more challenging for Beijing is if the U.S., European Union and Japan get together and start taking measures on state-owned enterprises,” said Baig. “That for me would be an escalation, whereas product-by-product back and forth, amounting to a few billion dollars here or there, is not a major substantive concern.”

Foreign governments also accuse Beijing of violating free trade by requiring automakers and other foreign companies to work through state-owned Chinese partners. That requires them to give technology to potential competitors.

Last month, a U.S. official cited as “hugely problematic” Beijing’s sweeping plan to create Chinese competitors in electric cars, robots, advanced manufacturing and other fields over the next decade. Business groups complain that strategy, dubbed “Made in China 2025,” will limit or outright block access to those industries.

The country’s top economic official, Premier Li Keqiang, promised at a news conference on March 20 there will be “no mandatory requirement for technology transfers.” However, Chinese officials already deny foreign companies are required to hand over technology, leaving it unclear how policy might change.

Trump ordered U.S. trade officials on March 22 to bring a WTO case challenging Chinese technology licensing. It proposed 25 percent tariffs on Chinese products including aerospace, communications technology and machinery and said Washington will step up restrictions on Chinese investment in key U.S. technology sectors.

Beijing has yet to say how it might respond.

Trump administration officials have identified as potential targets 1,300 product lines worth about $48 billion. That list will be open to a 30-day comment period for businesses.

The volleys of threats are “a process of game-playing to test each other’s bottom lines,” said Tu Xinquan, a trade expert at the University of International Business and Economics in Beijing.

“We are curious about what the U.S. side really wants,” said Tu, “and wonder whether the United States can tolerate the consequences.”

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AP researcher Yu Bing contributed to this report.

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JERUSALEM (AP) — Israel’s defense minister on Sunday rejected international calls for an investigation into deadly violence along Gaza’s border with Israel, saying troops acted appropriately and fired only at Palestinian protesters who posed a threat.Fifteen Palestinians were killed and over 700 wounded in Friday’s violence near the Israeli border, according to Palestinian health officials. It was the area’s deadliest violence since a war four years ago.

Human rights groups have accused the army of using excessive force, and both the U.N. secretary-general and the European Union’s foreign policy chief have urged an investigation.

In an interview, Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman said Israel would not cooperate with a U.N. inquiry if there were one.

“From the standpoint of the Israeli soldiers, they did what had to be done,” Lieberman told Israeli Army Radio. “I think that all of our troops deserve a commendation, and there won’t be any inquiry.”

Friday’s mass marches were largely led by Gaza’s ruling Hamas group and touted as the launch of a six-week-long protest campaign against a stifling decade-old blockade of the territory. Israel and Egypt have maintained the blockade since Hamas, an Islamic militant group sworn to Israel’s destruction, seized control of Gaza in 2007.

In Friday’s confrontations, large crowds gathered near the fence, with smaller groups of protesters rushing forward, throwing stones and burning tires.

Israeli troops responded with live fire and rubber-coated steel pellets, while drones dropped tear gas from above. Soldiers with rifles were perched on high earthen embankments overlooking the scene.

Protests have continued since Friday but at a far smaller scale. On Sunday, one person was seriously wounded by gunfire, Palestinian medical officials said.

The military has said it responded only to violent attacks aimed at troops and the border fence. But video from the scene showed at least a handful of incidents in which people appear to have been shot either far from the border or while they were not actively rioting.

The Israeli military accused Hamas of releasing videos that were either incomplete, edited or “completely fabricated.” It said troops had followed strict rules of engagement, and that protesters were putting themselves in “harm’s way” by operating in a dangerous area.

In the interview, Lieberman said those who protested peacefully were not harmed, saying claims that peaceful protesters were harmed were “lies and inventions.”

“Whoever didn’t get close to the fence was not shot,” he said.

Tamar Zandberg, leader of the dovish opposition party Meretz, posted a video over the weekend calling for an independent inquiry into Friday’s violence.

“I’m worried about the fate of all of us, and the fate of the residents of the Gaza periphery communities, who could be sitting in bomb shelters today, tomorrow or next week,” she told Army Radio, “so I’m calling to stop this now.”

Zandberg came under heavy criticism for her comments. “As if this were a case of innocent civilians who had been shot while doing their holiday shopping, rather than people who had been pushed to the border by Hamas in order to be killed in service to the Palestinian narrative,” wrote defense analyst Alon Ben-David.

The Israeli military has said those killed by troops were men who were involved in violence and who belonged to Hamas and other militant factions. The army later released the names and ages of 10 of the dead, including what it said were eight members of Hamas and two from other militant groups.

Israel has also accused Gaza health officials of exaggerating the number of wounded.

Four of the 15 dead were members of the Hamas military wing, Hamas said Saturday. The group said a fifth member who was not on the Health Ministry list was killed near the border, and that Israel has the body. It said another man is also missing in the border area.

The protests are to culminate in a large border march on May 15, the 70th anniversary of Israel’s founding. The date is mourned by Palestinians as their “nakba,” or catastrophe, when hundreds of thousands were uprooted in the 1948 Mideast war over Israel’s creation.

Israel has warned that it will not allow the border to be breached. It also accuses Hamas of trying to use protests as a cover for planting explosives and staging attacks. On Saturday, Israel’s military said it will target militant groups inside Gaza if the border violence drags on.

It appears unlikely that large-scale protests will continue daily, with larger turnouts only expected after Friday noon prayers, the highlight of the Muslim religious week.

Inside Israel, most of the country has lined up solidly behind the army. Still, on Sunday, dozens of Israelis demonstrated in Tel Aviv against the violence, criticizing Israel for its response.

Hamas has killed hundreds of Israelis in suicide bombings and other attacks, and it has battled Israel in three wars since taking control of Gaza.

The group has been badly weakened by the blockade, international isolation and the rival Palestinian Authority in the West Bank. It appears to be taking a gamble by using the protests to attract attention to Gaza without sparking another painful war.

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ST. PETERSBURG, Russia (AP) — Russia’s Foreign Ministry has accused U.S. intelligence services of trying to recruit Russian diplomats expelled by the U.S. amid a diplomatic conflict over the poisoning of an ex-spy in Britain.

The ministry said Friday it saw a “sharp increase in provocative actions against Russian diplomats” following the U.S. decision earlier this week to order out 60 Russian diplomats.

It said American intelligence services have engaged in “frantic efforts” to make cooperation offers to the expelled diplomats. The ministry described the alleged U.S. overtures as “cynical and disgusting,” adding that they have failed.

Two dozen countries ordered more than 150 Russian diplomats out in a show of solidarity with Britain over the nerve agent attack on ex-spy Sergei Skripal. Moscow denies involvement and has responded in kind.

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