US warns Turkey against Syria operation targeting Kurds;The Turkish president has announced a fresh offensive against Kurdish fighters in Syria is just around the corner. But the US has warned that such action would harm efforts to destroy the “Islamic State” in the region.The US on Wednesday warned Turkey against launching an operation targeting Kurdish militias in northern Syria, saying such action would be “unacceptable.” “Unilateral military action into northeast Syria by any party, particularly as US personnel may be present or in the vicinity, is of grave concern,” said Commander Sean Robertson, a spokesman for the Pentagon. Robertson said Washington was committed to Turkish border security, but noted that the US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) led by the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) remained a “committed partner” in the fight against the “Islamic State” (IS) militant group. “We should not and cannot allow ISIS to breathe at this critical point or we will jeopardize the significant gains we have made alongside our coalition partners and risk allowing ISIS to resurge,” Robertson said, referring to the militant group by an alternative acronym. But Turkey considers the YPG an extension of the terrorist-designated Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) and views its consolidation of territory in parts of Syria as a threat.
Turkey train crash: Fatalities after high-speed train collision; A Turkish high-speed train has collided with a local train in the capital, Ankara. Numerous casualties and several fatalities were reported by local media. Turkish media reported that the accident, which happened as the train was setting off from Ankara to the central southern province of Konya, had resulted in multiple casualties and fatalities. Images showed at least two carriages had been derailed, at least one of which appeared severely mangled. The accident happened in the western city district of Yenimahalle at 6:30 a.m. local time (0330 UTC). Official sources were reported as saying that, in addition to seven fatalities, at least 46 people had been injured. Part of the train appeared to have collided with a station overpass, which collapsed onto some coaches. Ankara governor Vasip Sahin said the high-speed train crashed into a locomotive engine checking rails at the Marsandiz train station. A rescue team was looking for more survivors, he said. “Our hope is that there are no other victims,” said Sahin, who added that a technical investigation was also underway into the cause of the crash.
Brexit: Theresa May wins Conservative Party confidence vote; Theresa May has survived a leadership challenge from hard-line members of her Conservative Party. But the battle over her controversial Brexit deal continues. UK Prime Minister Theresa May has won a confidence vote in her leadership of the Conservative Party. Of the party’s 317 lawmakers, 200 voted for her to remain in office and 117 voted against her. The party cannot hold another leadership challenge for another year. “We now have to get on with the job of delivering Brexit for the British people and building a better future for this country,” May said after the result was announced. She added that she would seek legal and political assurances from EU leaders on a “backstop” arrangement contained in a draft Brexit deal. Hard-liners in her own party oppose the deal because they fear that the backstop, an insurance policy for maintaining an open border between Northern Ireland, a UK territory, and EU member Ireland, could force the country to accept EU rules indefinitely. Forty-eight of them triggered the confidence vote on Tuesday after weeks of outrage over May’s handling of Brexit talks with EU leaders.
No Brexit renegotiation, Angela Merkel tells Bundestag; The German chancellor says that her country continues to seek an “orderly” Brexit, but is preparing for harsher eventualities. The topic dominated Merkel’s second-ever parliamentary Q&A session.One day after Theresa May’s visit to Berlin and Brussels, as the British prime minister was facing a no-confidence vote within her own party, Angela Merkel submitted to a session of parliamentary questioning modelled on that in the House of Commons. Not surprisingly, topic number one was Brexit. And equally unsurprisingly the chancellor reiterated a familiar position. “We have no intention of changing the Brexit deal,” Merkel said. “That’s the common position of the 27 member states. So there’s no reason to expect any changes to come from the discussions.” Merkel rejected the accusation from the anti-EU far-right populist Alternative for Germany (AfD) party that the Brexit deal finalized in November “punished” Britain for leaving the EU. She said that the coming years would be used as a transitional period for working out outstanding issues such as the “difficult constellation” of Northern Ireland.
Australia to get anti-corruption commission; The commission will have two divisions: one to investigate the public sector and one for law enforcement agencies. The announcement attempts to nullify a major issue facing Scott Morrison’s government ahead of elections. Australia is to have a national anti-corruption commission aimed at stamping out corrupt and criminal behavior in police and politicians, Prime Minister Scott Morrison said Thursday. The move comes after pressure from the Labor opposition party, Greens, independent MPs and even from within the government to have a national integrity commission that can investigate corruption by federal employees and politicians. “This is a real proposal, with real resources and real teeth,” Morrison told reporters at a press conference in Sydney. Morrison said the Commonwealth Integrity Commission (CIC) will have two divisions: one will focus on the public sector, including politicians and their staff, and the other will focus on law enforcement agencies.
Germany shores up lithium supply with landmark Bolivia deal; As carmakers wrestle for the emerging electric car market, a German company sealed a key deal to mine a massive lithium deposit under a salt flat in Bolivia. The metal is crucial for making car battery cells. Lithium deposits hidden below Bolivia’s Uyuni salt flat are believed to be the largest in the world. On Wednesday, Germany’s privately owned ACI Systems agreed to a partnership with Bolivian state company YLB to exploit the element. Lithium is a key component in producing battery cells for electric cars, and a steady supply of the metal would allow German carmakers to boost their production. “Germany should become a leading location for battery cell production,” German Economy Minister Peter Altmaier said. Securing access to lithium would help “avoid falling behind and slipping into dependency,” he added.
EU parliament approves ‘world’s largest’ free trade deal with Japan; The world’s largest free trade agreement — one between the EU and Japan — is expected to go into force in February. Nearly all duties will be removed. The European Parliament on Wednesday approved a free trade agreement between Japan and the EU, covering 635 million people and almost one-third of the world’s economy. Dubbed the world’s largest free trade agreement, the EU-Japan Economic Partnership Agreement will remove duties on almost all agricultural and industrial products as well as open up the service sector and procurement. It also moves to eliminate non-tariff barriers to trade. “Almost five centuries after Europeans established the first trade ties with Japan, the entry into force of the EU-Japan Economic Partnership Agreement will bring our trade, political and strategic relationship to a whole new level,” European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker said. “Our economic partnership with Japan — the biggest trade zone ever negotiated — is now very close to becoming a reality. This will bring clear benefits to our companies, farmers, service providers and others,” said Cecilia Malmström, EU Commissioner for Trade. European lawmakers voted 474 in favor and 152 against with 40 abstentions. Japan’s parliament have already approved the agreement.
Venezuela jails German rightwing journalist for espionage; A journalist known for his bylines in rightwing newspapers has been charged with spying and rebellion. Press freedom groups have called for his release, saying he has a right to report “regardless of his personal views.”The German Foreign Ministry on Wednesday confirmed to DW that German journalist Billy Six has been arrested in Venezuela. The ministry said it has extended consular services to the journalist, who is known for his bylines in the conservative Berlin-based Junge Freiheit newspaper. “We appreciate his journalistic work and the intrepid manner in which Bill Six reports from crisis regions across the world,” Junge Freiheit editor-in-chief Dieter Stein told DW. “With all our strength, we will support his family and the foreign ministry to secure his release.”
Second Canadian missing in China; Canadian Foreign Ministry says they have lost contact with a second Canadian in China.Michael Spavor is a businessman and has been working on cultural exchanges between North Korea and foreign countries.
A photo in his Instagram account shows him meeting with the North’s leader Kim Jong Un. Chinese media report that authorities are investigating him on suspicion of harming China’s security. The disappearance comes days after former Canadian diplomat Michael Kovrig was detained by the Chinese spy agency.
Thai election campaign starts; Thai politicians are out in the streets rallying support with their sights set on next year’s general election. It follows this week’s lifting of a ban on political activity by the country’s military-run government. The official campaign is expected to start in early January. But on Wednesday members from an opposition party were seen meeting with shop owners in central Bangkok. Pheu Thai Party’s election strategy committee chairperson Sudarat Keyuraphan said the party will do their best to get people to vote for them. The group supports former Prime Minister Thaksin Sinawatra who is in self-imposed exile after being ousted in a 2006 coup. The former leader remains popular and is expected to be a major factor in the election that has been slated for February 24th. Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha has repeatedly pushed back the vote that would restore democracy in the Southeast Asian country. Reports say the military wants to keep power and is expected to form a new political party to field candidates in the election.
Mindanao martial law extended again; The Philippines Congress has approved another extension of martial law on the southern island of Mindanao until the end of next year. The Philippine military is still facing off against armed militants in the area. A joint session of the Senate and the House of Representatives approved the extension on Wednesday with an overwhelming majority. It’s the 3rd time martial law has been extended. The move comes after President Rodrigo Duterte last week asked Congress to grant the extension. He imposed martial law on Mindanao last year in the wake of a fierce battle in and around Marawi City. Five months of fighting between government forces and armed supporters of the Islamic State militant group killed 12-hundred people. Duterte has had the area and its neighboring islands under military rule ever since. Some lawmakers have criticized the repeated extensions, saying they allow human rights violations to become commonplace. But the government says it wants to ensure security for next month’s scheduled referendum on creating an autonomous government.
Two Koreas verify demolition of guard posts; he process to defuse tensions on the Korean Peninsula has taken a symbolic step forward. Military officers from the 2 Koreas on Wednesday verified the destruction of 22 guard posts in the demilitarized zone that still divides the countries. Each side sent 7 officers and camera crew across new cross-border paths built for the first time since the 2 Koreas were divided. Their task was to check that the installations have been demolished as well as to verify that weapons, military equipment and soldiers have been totally withdrawn. Seoul and Pyongyang agreed in October to demolish 11 guard posts each by the end of the following month. They later decided to preserve one on each side of the border for their historical value.
South Korean President Moon Jae-in said it clearly shows the willingness of both sides to implement the accord. However, there are believed to about 200 guard posts remaining in the DMZ.
Japan, S.Korea foreign ministers hold phone talks; The foreign ministers of Japan and South Korea have held phone talks amid strained ties over the South Korean Supreme Court’s rulings on wartime labor. Japanese Foreign Minister Taro Kono and South Korean Foreign Minister Kang Kyung-wha spoke for about 30 minutes before noon on Wednesday. Japan’s foreign ministry says the top diplomats had a frank exchange of views on bilateral relations, and referred to the South Korean top court’s rulings ordering Japanese companies to compensate Korean men who say they were forced to work at factories in Japan during World War Two. The phone talks were the first since Kono demanded that the South Korean government take resolute action following the court’s first ruling in October. The 2 ministers are believed to have discussed the South Korean government’s response to the rulings. South Korea’s foreign ministry announced that Kang explained to Kono the South Korean government’s position on the rulings and asked Japan to respond prudently.The ministry added that the 2 sides agreed to remain in close contact.
Autonomous truck tested; A Japanese truck maker conducted a test run of its self-driving vehicle at its headquarters near Tokyo on Wednesday. The prototype of UD Trucks comes with “level-4” auto-driving technology. Company officials say the demonstration was the first in Japan using the technology. The truck can travel on its own in limited areas. UD Trucks says it’s pre-programmed with data on routes and road width. GPS pinpoints its location. Cameras and sensors on its body detect other vehicles and obstacles. The vehicle can slow itself down and park. Officials say they aim to commercialize the vehicle by 2020 for use at factories and ports.