World News Headlines: 01-05-2019

GERMANY (DW)

Angela Merkel and hundreds of German politicians hacked; German Chancellor Angela Merkel and other senior politicians were reportedly hit by a data hack, with some of their letters, contact details and party memos leaked on Twitter. Germany’s digital defense body is “intensively” investigating the apparent data leak that saw data of hundreds of politicians from across the political spectrum being published online, a spokesman for the Federal Office for IT Safety (BSI) said on Friday. “Hacking attack against politicians: The BSI is currently intensively probing the issue in close cooperation with other federal institutions,” the BSI said on Twitter, adding that “according to what we know so far” the government’s confidential networks were unaffected.

Paul Whelan: Is American held in Moscow really a US spy?; The facts surrounding the arrest of US citizen Paul Whelan in Moscow remain murky. But rumors suggesting he was arrested so he could be exchanged for alleged Russian spy Maria Butina are growing louder.Russia’s Federal Security Service (FSB) claims to have caught Paul Whelan red-handed. The former US Marine, arrested in Moscow last Friday, is said to have received a USB stick with sensitive information on it from Russian agents who met him at the Metropol Hotel — just down the street from both the Kremlin and the FSB headquarters. Russian news agency Rosbalt, citing Moscow security circles, has claimed Whelan received a classified list of names from a Russian citizen, though those claims have yet to be independently verified. Whelan is currently in detention, awaiting trial on charges of espionage. Russian intelligence services have publicly stated that in the event of a guilty verdict, Whelan faces between 10 and 20 years in prison.

A German right to work from home in your pajamas?; Around 40 percent of Germans want to be able to work occasionally from home. German lawmakers want to make it mandatory for employers to offer workers the option of a home office. Germany’s Labor Ministry wants to require employers to allow staff to work from home, Ministry Secretary Björn Böhning said in an interview with Der Spiegel. According to the German news magazine, Böhning is planning an initiative compelling German companies to either allow their employees to work from home or justify why it is not possible.

US deploys troops to Gabon over possible DR Congo violence; Concerns are mounting that violence will erupt in DR Congo over last Sunday’s contested election. The vote was marred by delays, irregularities and voting problems. US President Donald Trump deployed 80 US military personnel to Gabon in response to possible violence in the Democratic Republic of Congo following a disputed election. In a letter to Congress, Trump said the troops were sent in response to “the possibility that violent demonstrations may occur” in DR Congo in reaction to the December 30 elections. The combat troops and supporting military aircraft would provide security to US citizens, personnel and diplomatic facilities in the Congolese capital, Kinshasa, should the need arise. “Additional forces may deploy to Gabon, the Democratic Republic of Congo, or the Republic of Congo, if necessary for these purposes. These deployed personnel will remain in the region until the security situation in the Democratic Republic of Congo becomes such that their presence is no longer needed,” the letter stated.

Venezuela: Lima Group refuse to recognize Maduro mandate; Latin American governments have urged Venezuela’s president, Nicolas Maduro, not to take the oath of office. The Lima bloc have said they will not recognize his new term because last year’s election was “illegitimate.” The Lima Group of Latin American countries on Friday urged Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro to abstain from being sworn in for a second term he won in elections widely condemned as illegitimate, and cede power until new elections can be held. The bloc said in a statement that they would not recognize Maduro’s socialist government after a meeting in the Peruvian capital to discuss how to step up international pressure on the Maduro regime. The meeting discussed Venezuela’s crisis ahead of Maduro’s plans to be sworn in on January 10. Mexico also partook but didn’t sign the statement.

Italian mayors rebel against Salvini migrant laws; Several left-wing mayors in Italy have refused to obey the “anti-migrant” policies of interior minister, Matteo Salvini. The right-wing leader has spearheaded a move to tighten asylum laws. The mayors of several Italian cities on Friday said they were refusing to obey Italy’s new anti-migrant law. The so-called Salvini decree strips humanitarian protection for migrants not approved for refugee status, but who cannot be deported. The left-wing “rebel” mayors condemned the new legislation — which makes it easier to expel new arrivals and limits residence permits — as unconstitutional. The “Salvini decree” also abolished humanitarian protection permits granted to people who didn’t qualify for asylum, but for whom it was too dangerous to return home. Italy was the only EU member state offering the two-year permits which allowed vulnerable people to live in state-run reception centers and access training and educational programs and find work.

France to tackle English Channel migrant crossings; Hundreds of people have tried to cross the English Channel from France to the United Kingdom in recent weeks. The crossings have caused a headache for the UK government. France will increase police patrols and surveillance along its northern coast to tackle an uptick in the number of people trying to illegally cross the English Channel to the United Kingdom, France’s interior ministry said on Friday. More than 500 people, many of whom are from Iran, tried to cross the Channel in 2018, with most crossings occurring in the past two months. Under pressure to find a solution, the UK has stepped up marine patrols along its Channel coast. “It’s in our interest, as well as the United Kingdom’s, to do everything to prevent new networks (of people smugglers) developing, which would likely attract irregular migrants to our shores again,” the French Interior Ministry said.

FRANCE (France24)

Taiwan president calls for international support to defend democracy; Tsai’s comments came days after Chinese President Xi Jinping said nobody could change the fact that Taiwan was part of China, and that people on both sides of the Taiwan Strait should seek “reunification”. “We hope that the international community takes it seriously and can voice support and help us,” Tsai told reporters in Taipei, referring to threats by China to use force to bring Taiwan under its control. If the international community did not support a democratic country that was under threat, “we might have to ask which country might be next,?” Tsai added. Taiwan is China’s most sensitive issue and is claimed by Beijing as its sacred territory. Xi has stepped up pressure on the democratic island since Tsai from the pro-independence Democratic Progressive Party became president in 2016. President Xi said on Wednesday that China reserves the right to use force to bring Taiwan under its control but will strive to achieve peaceful “reunification” with the island. In response, Tsai has said the island would not accept a “one country, two systems” political arrangement with China, while stressing all cross-Strait negotiations needed to be carried out on a government-to-government basis. Tsai on Saturday also urged China to have a “correct understanding” of what Taiwanese think and said actions such as political bullying were unhelpful in cross-strait relations.

International pressure mounts on DR Congo as election deadline loom; Expectations are mounting that electoral overseers will delay publication of provisional results due by Sunday — a move likely to add to tensions in the notoriously unstable country. “The Democratic Republic of Congo is at a historic moment toward a democratic transition,” the European Union said. It called on the authorities “to ensure the upcoming results conform with the Congolese people’s vote”.

JAPAN (NHK)

Thai junta: General election may be delayed; Thailand’s military government says it is considering delaying a general election scheduled for February by about a month to avoid potential conflicts with the upcoming royal coronation. On Tuesday, Thailand’s royal palace announced that King Maha Vajiralongkorn will be officially crowned in coronation ceremonies from May 4th through the 6th. The king ascended to the throne after the late King Bhumibol Adulyadej died in October of 2016. Deputy Prime Minister Wissanu Krea-ngam noted on Friday that if the poll is held in February, the inauguration of parliament would overlap with the coronation and related events in May. The military government says the election commission will make a formal announcement on the election date. Major political parties and civic groups are reacting sharply to the possible delay. The military junta, which has been in power since a coup in May of 2014, has repeatedly delayed the election.

Ghosn set to make court appearance; Former Nissan Chairman Carlos Ghosn is set to appear in a court in Tokyo to hear the reason for his detention. NHK has learned that Ghosn’s lawyer filed a request with the Tokyo District Court on Friday for the legal step. The court is required to hold an open hearing within 5 days of such an application in principle. The detainee is allowed to state his opinions. Ghosn’s lawyer says the former Nissan chairman intends to appear in court. Ghosn was served a fresh arrest warrant on December 21st on suspicion of aggravated breach of trust. He allegedly had a Nissan subsidiary illicitly channel about 15 million dollars to a firm run by a Saudi Arabian businessman. The Saudi is said to have helped Ghosn obtain credit guarantees to cover his personal investment losses.

China to cut bank reserve requirement ratio; China’s central bank has announced more monetary easing in the form of cutting the minimum reserve level for commercial banks by a total of one percentage point. The People’s Bank of China said on Friday that reductions by 0.5 percentage points will be made on January 15th and again January 25th. The reserve requirement ratio refers to the percentage of cash that financial institutions are required to place in the central bank as reserves, against the amount of deposits they hold. Lowering the ratio is expected to boost lending. Bank officials say the measure will unleash 800 billion yuan, or about 116 billion dollars, into the market and effectively increase loan funding sources of small and private businesses. The announcement comes as concerns are growing over the effects of the trade conflict with the United States on the country’s economy. The Chinese government is stepping up support efforts. At the Central Economic Work Conference in December, Chinese leaders indicated their intention to enact further monetary easing measures.

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