World News Headlines: 12-18-2018

GERMANY (DW)
Syrian refugees in Germany required to renew passports at pro-Assad embassies;
Germany is forcing people displaced by the Syrian war to get documents and hand over money at Syrian consulates loyal to Bashar Assad. Refugee advocates say this is inhumane and supports the brutal Assad regime. Of the hundreds of thousands of displaced Syrians who have come to Germany since 2014, many enjoy only “subsidiary protection” and not full refugee status. Among other things, this means that they are dependent on embassies loyal to the regime of President Bashar Assad. Under German law, people with various levels of political asylum or similar protection in Germany have to actively cooperate in procuring identity documentation, including passports. And more and more Syrians are being granted only subsidiary rather than full refugee status. Whereas 99.7 percent of Syrians coming to Germany in 2015 were classed as full refugees, last year only 38.2 percent were — with 61 percent enjoying only subsidiary protection.

Russia to deploy warplanes to Crimea amid Ukraine standoff; The Russian foreign minister claimed that Ukraine was planning an “armed provocation” in the coming weeks. Moscow-Kyiv relations have continued to deteriorate after Russia seized three Ukrainian ships at sea.The Russian Defense Ministry on Monday said it would “return” more than 10 warplanes to Crimea, according to Russian news agency Interfax. The ministry said fighter jets, including Sukhoi Su-27 and Su-30’s, will be sent to the annexed Ukrainian territory as part of a “permanent deployment.” They are expected to arrive by Saturday.The announcement comes after Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov claimed in an interview that Ukraine was preparing an “armed provocation with Russia on the border with Crimea during the last ten days of December.”

Serbia and Kosovo clash over army at UN Security Council; The only mistake Kosovo made in creating an army was “waiting five years,” the country’s president has told the UN Security Council. But Serbia has urged the UN to “tame” Pristina. World powers discussed Kosovo’s decision to form an army at a UN Security Council session on Monday. Serbia and Russia have strongly protested the move. Addressing the council, Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic said he was “very much concerned and a bit afraid” by the developments in the region. He urged international representatives to influence Kosovo leaders, saying that “someone has to curb, someone has to tame those people, because measures that they have taken recently are something that is not coherent with the 21 century.” At the same time, Vucic seemed to downplay fears that Serbia might intervene militarily over the creation of an army in Kosovo. “We will refrain ourselves of doing wrong steps in the future as well, because we suffered a lot in the past and we don’t have any more kids to spend in different types of wars, hostilities, and clashes,” he said.

Hungarians protest draconian ‘slave law’ as Orban cracks down on dissent; Hungary is seeing its largest protests in years, triggered by an employee-hostile law. But for the protesters, it’s about a lot more. Meanwhile, the government, led by strongman PM Viktor Orban, smells a conspiracy. For days, thousands of Hungarians have been protesting against the Orban government’s social policies and against the anti-democratic restructuring of their country. It’s a wave of protests the likes of which Hungary hasn’t experienced in a long time. In some cases, police have been using violence and teargas against protesters in the last few days, even though before that there had merely been some scuffles with the officers. Dozens of people, some of them not even part of the protests, were arrested, and many were only released after 12 hours or more. On Sunday, a large-scale peaceful rally organized by opposition parties and Hungarian trade unions took place without problems — initially. But late on Sunday evening the police again used tear gas against demonstrators when they mobbed the building of Hungary’s public radio station. Sunday night, a group of members of parliament, who have free access to the radio building, demanded in vain to be allowed to read a live petition on the news. They continued their protest in the radio building on Monday. At one point, one of the parliamentary protesters was forcibly thrown out of the building, although this is not permitted under current law for various reasons including parliamentary immunity.

UN: Hezbollah tunnels on Israel-Lebanon border violate truce; The UN peacekeeping force UNIFIL has confirmed the existence of tunnels under the Lebanon-Israel border. The announcement comes as the Lebanese and Israeli armies had a tense standoff along the border. The UN peacekeeping force on the Israel-Lebanon border said Monday that two of four tunnels allegedly dug by Hezbollah crossed the demarcation line between the two countries in violation of a UN resolution that ended the 2006 war. The UN Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) said it had confirmed the existence of four tunnels found by Israel earlier this month, two of which crossed the Blue Line border demarcation between the two countries. “UNIFIL at this stage can confirm that two of the tunnels cross the Blue Line. These constitute violations of UN Security Council resolution 1701,” it said in a statement. Lebanon and Israel are technically still at war. Israel and Hezbollah, which has an armed wing stronger than the Lebanese army, last fought a war in 2006. President Michel Aoun, a political ally of Hezbollah, has said he is committed to upholding Security Council resolution 1701, which bans non-Lebanese state forces operating between the Litani River and the UN monitored Blue Line.

Strasbourg attack: Suspected accomplices arrested and charged; Two people have been arrested for supplying weapons to the Strasbourg Christmas market shooter. Meanwhile, the death toll from the attack has risen to five. Two people were arrested on Monday in connection with the gun attack that killed five people last week at a Christmas market in Strasbourg, the Paris prosecutor’s office said. A third suspect appeared in court suspected of involvement in supplying the weapon that alleged gunman Cherif Chekatt used in the December 11 attack according to an official close to the investigation. Chekatt, 29, died in a shootout with police in Strasbourg Thursday. The two individuals detained were also suspected of “playing a role in supplying the firearm,” said the official, who could not be named with the case ongoing. The arrests bring the number of suspects in custody since the attack to three; Chekatt’s parents and two of his brothers were questioned by police last week and released. The death toll from the attack rose to five Sunday night after a Polish man died of his wounds in a Strasbourg hospital. Barto Orent-Niedzielski, 36, lived in the city, where he worked at the European Parliament and as a journalist. According to some reports, Orent-Niedzielski fought the shooter and stopped him from entering a crowded club, possibly preventing more deaths.

Poland reverses Supreme Court retirements after EU order; Poland has undone a law that lowered the retirement age of Supreme Court judges after the EU’s top court ordered its reversal. The country’s judicial reforms have been at the center of a dispute with the EU. Polish President Andrzej Duda signed legislation late Monday reinstating around two dozen Supreme Court judges forced into early retirement. Earlier in the day, the European Court of Justice (ECJ) had ordered Poland to immediately suspend a law that lowered the retirement age from 70 to 65. The Polish parliament passed a revision to the law in late November following an interim ECJ order in October .
The European Commission, the EU’s executive arm, had asked the bloc’s top court to review the legislation over concerns the reforms gave the government control of the judiciary. The EU has been in a bitter dispute with Poland’s ruling Law and Justice (PiS) party since it made sweeping changes to the judiciary after coming to power in 2015. The government says that the changes were necessary to make the Supreme Court more efficient.

JAPAN (NHK)

Japan adopts new defense guidelines; Japan has approved new defense guidelines, including a plan to upgrade an existing destroyer into a de-facto aircraft carrier. The new National Defense Program Guidelines and the mid-term defense program for the next five years were adopted on Tuesday at a cabinet meeting. They highlight the tough security environment around Japan. This includes China’s rapid military buildup on the sea and in the air and its pursuit of dominance in outer space and cyber space. They say the threat posed by North Korea’s nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles remains essentially unchanged. Under the defense guidelines, Japan will launch a multi-dimensional and integrated defense force. It will function strategically in outer space and cyber space, in addition to the conventional domains of land, sea and air. The plans call for setting up a new space unit and expanding an existing cyber-defense unit. In order to strengthen defense in the Pacific Ocean, the guidelines call for refurbishing the nation’s largest destroyer Izumo over the next five years so it can effectively function as an aircraft carrier. Japan will acquire state-of-the-art F-35B stealth fighter jets that can take off and land on the refurbished Izumo. However, the fighters will only be used on the vessel in emergencies or for training, rather than being deployed on a regular basis. The measure is intended to clarify that the new Izumo will not be an “offensive aircraft carrier,” which Japan cannot possess under its war-renouncing Constitution and its “defense-only” national policy. Cabinet ministers also approved a plan to introduce 42 F-35Bs and 63 F-35As in phases to replace about 100 aging fighter jets.

UN adopts resolution on N.Korea human rights; The United Nations General Assembly has adopted a resolution condemning North Korea’s human rights situation. The resolution submitted by Japan and the European Union won overwhelming support in a vote at the General Assembly on Monday. The resolution claims there is a lack of freedom of movement and expression in North Korea. It also condemns the nation’s systematic abductions of Japanese and other people and calls for the immediate repatriation of the abducted foreigners. Japan and the EU have jointly submitted similar resolutions every year since 2005 to solicit cooperation and support from the international community to improve human rights climate in the North. Before the vote, North Korea’s UN ambassador Kim Song argued that the draft resolution has nothing to do with human rights issues. He rejected it as a political plot by hostile forces. China and Syria also said they were against the draft resolution. The adoption comes after the UN Security Council postponed an annual meeting on human rights in North Korea as it failed to get enough support to hold it this month. The meeting has been held every December since 2014. The United States is aiming to hold it in January.

UN official: Syria unprepared for returnees; A Japanese member of the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees says that Syria is not fully prepared to accept the displaced people that are coming back to the country. The head of the UNHCR office in Syria’s northern city of Aleppo, Yumiko Takashima, spoke to NHK in Tokyo on Monday during her brief visit to Japan. Takashima said that half of Aleppo’s city center, which was once controlled by anti-government forces, remains badly damaged. She expressed concern about the safety of the returnees, citing occasional shelling at night. Takashima said social services are insufficient but that the UNHCR hopes to help improve the situation. She indicated as examples of support remedial classes for children who could not go to school during their absence and repairing bakeries. The refugee agency estimates that 250,000 out of the roughly 5.6 million people that have fled Syria will return next year. Takashima said the displaced Syrians are struggling but looking ahead. She called on the international community to offer its help.

Nissan’s Saikawa to attend alliance meeting; NHK has learned that Nissan Motor President Hiroto Saikawa will attend a meeting between Nissan, Mitsubishi and Renault. The two-day gathering will begin later on Tuesday in Amsterdam. Saikawa has told reporters he plans to ask for the opportunity to explain the scandal involving former Nissan chairman Carlos Ghosn to his counterparts at Renault. Saikawa said it’s important to have mutual understanding of the incident among the alliance partners. He said he intends to report the outcome of Nissan’s in-house investigation into the scandal directly to the executives from Renault, which is Nissan’s biggest shareholder. Saikawa is also expected to exchange opinions on who will succeed Ghosn as Nissan chairman. Renault has expressed its intention to pick the next company chairman. But Nissan disagrees with that stance. The Japanese carmaker has decided to set up a panel that includes third-party experts and discuss Ghosn’s successor. The person will then be named based on the discussions.

Russia: Barracks built in Northern Territories; Russia has reportedly built military barracks on the Etorofu and Kunashiri islands, two of four Russian-held islands. Russia controls the islands. Japan claims them. The Japanese government maintains the islands are an inherent part of Japan’s territory. It says the islands were illegally occupied after World War Two. Russia’s state-run TASS news agency reported on Monday that the defense ministry revealed four new housing complexes on the islands. It says 188 households are expected to move into them next week. The report says two similar facilities are scheduled to be built in Etorofu and one in Kunashiri next year. Homes, schools and sports facilities for the people on the islands will reportedly be renovated, bringing the total number of construction and repair projects for military personnel and civilians to over 200. Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov spoke to reporters on Monday about negotiations on a peace treaty with Japan. He said that the signing of a peace treaty based on the 1956 declaration means Japan has fully recognized the results of the Second World War. However, he added, Japan is not ready to do that. Lavrov reiterated that Russia is not illegally occupying the islands, but that they became Russia’s territory based on the outcome of the war. Russia’s presidential office says it is making adjustments with Japan to hold a bilateral summit on January 21st.

Malaysia files charges against Goldman Sachs; Malaysian authorities have filed criminal charges against US financial firm Goldman Sachs over the 1MDB scandal. Officials say the company and former employees were involved in the misappropriation of billions of dollars from the sovereign wealth fund. Attorney General Tommy Thomas says Goldman Sachs affiliates misappropriated 2.7 billion dollars in bond proceeds. The money is allegedly from the 6.5 billion dollars of bonds 1MDB issued between 2012 and 2013. Thomas says Goldman Sachs received about 600 million dollars in fees for the deal. He says the US investment bank is suspected of violating securities laws by filing false statements with regulators. Thomas added he would also seek criminal charges against Goldman Sachs affiliates. The incident occurred during the administration of former Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak, who has been indicted on a number of charges including money laundering. The current Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad has pledged to get to the bottom of the 1MDB scandal.

France to launch digital tax; The French government says it’s going ahead with a new tax on digital revenue next month. The levy would hit Google, Facebook and other US IT giants. The move is despite the European Union’s decision to put its digital-tax plan on hold for this year. French Economy Minister Bruno Le Maire says income from advertisements and the resale of personal information will be subject to the tax. Le Maire predicts the levy will bring in annual revenues of 500 million euros, or 570 million dollars. He said the government will continue to aim for an EU-wide digital tax. French media see the move as a way of balancing the country’s fiscal books. A series of protests has forced the administration of President Emmanuel Macron to postpone a fuel-tax hike until 2020 or later, and raise the minimum wage. These concessions will likely expand France’s budget deficit next year to 3.2 percent of gross domestic product. That would exceed a 3-percent cap stipulated by the EU.

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