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March 2018 International Affairs

  • Australia abolished 457 visa programme used largely by Indians
    Australia has abolished its popular employer-sponsored 457 visa programme, widely used by Indians, replacing it with new stringent programme that requires higher English-language proficiency and job skills. The 457 visa programme, used by over 95,000 foreign workers, majority of them Indians, was replaced on March 18 by a new Temporary Skills Shortage visa programme. 

    The 457 visa programme allowed businesses to employ foreign workers for a period up to four years in skilled jobs where there was a shortage of Australian workers. 

    The majority of the visa holders under the category were from India, accounting almost a quarter of the intake, followed by the UK and China at 19.5 per cent and 5.8 per cent respectively. 

    The visa allowed people to live in Australia with their immediate family. It was designed to fill gaps in skilled labour but it had been criticised as being too accessible. 

    Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull in April last year had announced that his government will abolish the popular work visa programme to tackle the growing unemployment and replace it with a new programme. 

    The new visa programme which came into effect from March 18 after an official notification issued by Department of Home Affairs, comprise two streams — Short Term and Medium Term — and is underpinned by more focused occupation lists that are responsive to genuine skill needs and regional variations across Australia. 

    Short term visas will be issued for two years, while medium term visas will be issued only for more critical skills shortages and for up to four years. More stringent requirements for the new visas, including at least 2 years of work experience, better English language proficiency and a criminal check are also a part of new programme. 

    Other key reforms that have been included are a minimum market salary rate which ensures overseas workers cannot be hired to undercut Australian workers, labour market testing, making it mandatory for employers to ensure there is no suitable candidate in the local labour market and extending the permanent residency pathway from two years to three years. 

    Apart from that more than 650 jobs were available for 457 holders, but under the new visa rules it has been reduced by 200. The new visa programme also include a strengthened training obligation for employers sponsoring foreign skilled workers to provide enhanced training outcomes for Australians in high-need industries and occupations. 

    The 457 visa was introduced in the 1990s to quicken the entry of business professionals and highly skilled migrants but over time it was opened up for a broad category of workers. The programme was hit by controversy with allegations that the visa was being misused by employers to import cheap workers who lack necessary skills. 

  • United States added seven Pakistani companies to list of risk to national security 
    The United States has added seven Pakistani companies to a list of foreign entities that pose a significant risk to the national security and policy interests of the country. The list has been prepared by the US Bureau of Industry and Security. It declared that all seven companies are reasonably believed to be invol­ved in activities contrary to the national security or foreign policy interests of the United States. 

    According to the End-user Review Committee (ERC) of the US Department of Commerce, three companies are listed for their involvement in the proliferation of unsafeguarded nuclear acti­vi­ties. Two are for procuring supplies for nuclear-related entities and the remaining two are for acting as fronts for listed entities. The move would have a negative impact on Pakistan’s efforts to join the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG). A total of 23 entities added to the list include 15 from South Sudan and one from Singapore. They will now face stringent export control measures, which could prevent them from conducting international trade. 

  • US & EU expel Russian diplomats over attack on ex-spy
    The United States on 26th March expelled 60 Russian officials and ordered the closure of the Russian consulate in Seattle, as bilateral ties between the nuclear powers continue to deteriorate over poisoning an ex-spy in Britain. 

    Of the 60 officials being asked to leave, 48 are posted at the Russian embassy and 12 are at the Russian mission to the United Nations in New York. U.S administration officials said Russian officials and their families have been given seven days to leave the U.S. 

    14 EU states have also expelled Russian diplomats in a coordinated response to the nerve agent attack on a former spy in the British city of Salisbury. 

  • Western countries expel over 100 Russian diplomats
    Over 100 Russian diplomats have been expelled by Western countries following allegation over use of nerve agent attack on a former Russian spy in Britain. They took this action in solidarity with Britain, as it has already expelled 23 Russian diplomats. 

    This is the biggest Western expulsion of Russian diplomats since the height of Cold War. The countries include the United States and several European countries. 

    United States expelled 60 Russian diplomats, describing them as intelligence officers and ordered closure of the Russian consulate in Seattle. 

    A dozen of these expelled diplomats are based at Russia's Permanent Mission to the United Nations. 

    The White House said, all Russian diplomats, connected to the country's intelligence agencies, and their families have been given seven days' time to leave the country. 

    Ukraine announced expulsion of 13 Russian diplomats; Poland, France, Germany and Canada 4 each; Czech Republic and Lithuania, 3 each; the Netherlands, Italy and Denmark 2 each; Estonia, Latvia, Croatia, Finland and Romania one each. 

  • Yemen’s education system has been devastated by the country’s brutal conflict: UNICEF
    The United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) has said that Yemen's education system has been devastated by the country's brutal conflict. 

    It said that at least half a million children have dropped out of school since the escalation of the war in 2015. UNICEF Representative in Yemen, Meritxell Relano said, an entire generation of children in Yemen faces a bleak future because of limited or no access to education. 

    Xinhua reported that the total number of out-of-school children now stands at about 2 million, and almost three quarters of public school teachers have not been paid their salaries in over a year, putting the education of an additional 4.5 million children at grave risk. 

    UNICEF appeals to the warring parties, those who have influence on them, government authorities and donors to put an end to the war, pay teachers, protect children's education unconditionally, and increase funding for education. 

  • India, other G-4 nations called for transparency in negotiations on UN Security Council reform
    India and other G-4 nations have called for transparency in negotiations on UN Security Council reform. 

    They said, countries and groups making proposals, specifically on veto and regional representation, should be named in the documents framed for the discussions. 

    Delivering a statement on behalf of the G-4 countries, India's Permanent Representative to UN Syed Akbaruddin said there is a need for utmost clarity and openness specifically in the sections of veto and regional representation. 

    He said, at the informal meeting on intergovernmental negotiations on Security Council reform several proposals listed in the papers circulated for discussion are without any attribution of who made the suggestions. 

    Mr Syed Akbaruddin asked why countries and groups making a certain proposal are not named. Attribution is not a luxury but a necessity, he said as member states discussed the circulated paper on 'Revised Elements of Commonality and Issues for Further Consideration'. 

    Mr Syed Akbaruddin expressed hope that the co-chairs of the process will treat all proposals pending consideration on par, calling for the need to embrace and implement transparency. 

    Japan, India, Brazil and Germany - commonly known as G-4 - are seeking expansion of the permanent and non-permanent seats of the Security Council. They support each other's bids for permanent seats on the UN Security Council. 

  • Russia to expel 60 US diplomats, close US consulate in Saint Petersburg
    Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said on 29th March that Moscow would expel 60 US diplomats and close its consulate in Saint Petersburg in a tit-for-tat expulsion over the nerve agent attack on ex-double agent Sergei Skripal in Salisbury. 

    Sergei Lavrov said that the US ambassador had been informed of "retaliatory measures", saying that "they include the expulsion of the equivalent number of diplomats and our decision to withdraw permission for the functioning of the US consulate general in Saint Petersburg". Washington earlier ordered the expulsion of 60 diplomats and shut down the Russian consulate general in Seattle. The same approach will be applied to other nations that expelled Russian diplomats this week, Sergei Lavrov added. 

    More than 25 countries have announced plans to expel a total of more than 130 Russian diplomats in solidarity with the UK over what has been described as the first chemical weapons attack on European soil since the second world war. 

  • UN blacklists dozens of ships and businesses for helping North Korea 
    The UN Security Council on 31st March blacklisted 27 ships, 21 companies and a businessman for helping North Korea circumvent sanctions, keeping the pressure on Pyongyang despite its recent diplomatic opening to talks. 

    The council diplomat said, acting on a request from the United States, a council committee approved the largest-ever package of sanctions designations on North Korea. The move is part of a global crackdown on the smuggling of North Korean commodities in violation of UN sanctions resolutions, which were adopted in response to Pyongyang's nuclear and ballistic missile tests. 

    The sanctions were approved as the United States moves to open talks with North Korea on its nuclear drive, with a possible summit meeting between President Donald Trump and Kim Jong Un to be held by the end of May. 

  • ASEAN leaders, Australia’s PM Malcolm Turnbull call on North Korea to end its nuclear programme
    Leaders of Association of South-East Asian Nations (ASEAN) and Australia’s Prime Minister on 18th March called on North Korea to end its nuclear programme. 

    They also urged United Nations countries to fully implement sanctions. The call came in a joint statement issued at the end of a two day special ASEAN summit held in Sydney, Australia. It is the first time Australia has hosted the ASEAN summit. 

    The joint statement, called Sydney Declaration, was issued at a Press conference addressed by current ASEAN Chairman and Prime Minister of Singapore, Lee Hsien Loong and Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull. 

    The statement also called for non-militarization and a code of conduct in the contested waters of the South China Sea, where China has become increasingly assertive. ASEAN leaders said, they were working to provide humanitarian assistance for the continuing crisis involving Rohingya refugees fleeing Myanmar. 

    Australia’s Prime Minister said Mynamar leader Aang San Suu Kyi addressed the matter comprehensively in meetings. Mr Turnbull said, the Rohingya issue was also discussed by the leaders very constructively. The nations comprising the ASEAN are Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam. 

  • Russia blocks UN Security Council meeting on human rights in Syria
    Russia has blocked a meeting of the United Nations Security Council to discuss the human rights situation in Syria. Deputy Permanent Representative of Russia to the UN, Gennady Kuzmin said, they do not see any justification for the meeting since human rights is not a subject on the agenda of the Council. Russia is the largest international backer of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. 

    France and six other members had called for the meeting, which was expected to include a briefing from the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Zeid Ra'ad al-Hussein. 

    China, Bolivia and Kazakhstan voted with Russia to prevent the meeting, while Ivory Coast, Equatorial Guinea and Ethiopia were abstentions. 

    Those who voted to hold the meeting alongside France were the United Kingdom, Sweden, Poland, Holland, the United States, Peru and Kuwait. 

  • US imposes sanctions on four current and former senior Venezuelan officials
    The US has slapped sanctions on four current and former senior Venezuelan officials, accusing them of alleged economic mismanagement and corruption. 

    The Treasury Department said the designated individuals include a director of the country's National Bank of Housing and Habitat, the head of the body that oversees price controls in Venezuela, the head of the National Treasury of Venezuela, and the former President of the Board of Directors of the Venezuelan Institute of Social Security. 

    The announcement followed an executive order from US President Donald Trump prohibiting US transactions with Venezuela's digital currency, a move to further block the South American country's access to US financial market. 

  • G-20 sees need for 'dialogue,' fails to diffuse trade war threat
    The world’s financial leaders of G-20 have rejected protectionism and urged further dialogue on trade. 

    However, they failed to diffuse the threat of a trade war, days before United States' metals tariffs take effect and Washington is to announce measures against China. 

    The 2017 Hamburg declaration, which the financial leaders referred to, said the G-20 countries will continue to fight protectionism including all unfair trade practices. 

    Finance ministers and central bankers of the world’s 20 biggest economies, discussed trade disruptions as a risk to growth at a two-day meeting. 

    The Final G-20 Ministers' statement said that they are working to strengthen contribution of trade among the economies. 

    United States’ tariffs of 25 per cent on imported steel and 10 per cent on aluminum will come into effect from 23rd March. 

  • European Union unveils new plans to make big tech companies pay more taxes
    European Union has unveiled new plans to make big tech companies pay more taxes. The move, if endorsed, would hit big online US firms like Google and Facebook. 

    The European Commission said that EU member countries should be able to tax firms that make profits on their territory even if they aren't physically present. 

    It would concern any country where a firm's annual revenue exceeds 7 million euros, or which has more than 100,000 users or more than 3,000 digital service business contracts in a tax year. 

    The European Commission estimates that up to 150 companies could be affected, around half of them from the US. 

    A potential trade war is already looming over President Donald Trump's new tariffs on steel and aluminum imports, while his unclear tax plans have left the EU mulling counter measures. 

  • US President Donald Trump announces 60 billion dollar tariffs on China for its alleged unfair trade practices
    US President Donald Trump has announced 60 billion US dollar tariffs on China for its alleged unfair trade practices. The White House said the actions were necessary to counter unfair competition from China's state-led economy. The move is seen as a direct shot in a brewing trade war between the world's two biggest economies. 

    Mr Donald Trump directed US Trade Representative Robert E. Lighthizer to announce within 15 days a proposed list of products to be hit with tariff increases. USTR has already identified potential targets 1,300 product lines worth about 48 billion dollars. The President has also asked Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin to come up with a list of restrictions on Chinese investment. 

    Reiterating his use of word "reciprocal", Mr Donald Trump said it was not good when China charges 25 per cent for a car to go in, and the US charges two per cent for their car to come into the United States. The US currently has about 500 billion dollars of trade deficit with China. China has forcefully denounced President Trump's decision to impose tariffs on Chinese goods and accused him of putting the two economies on course for a trade war. 

    China's embassy in Washington said in a statement said if a trade war was initiated by the United States, China would fight to the end to defend its own legitimate interests with all necessary measures. The embassy said it urges the US to cease and desist and warned that by endangering China-US trade relations, Washington will eventually end up hurting itself. 

  • US launches World Trade Organisation challenge against China
    US on 22nd March launched a challenge at the World Trade Organization (WTO) against China over intellectual property breaches. A statement from the US Trade Representative's office said, the United States is taking action at WTO to address China's unfair technology practices that run counter to WTO rules. 

    US President Donald Trump on 22nd March hit China with tariffs up to 60 billion Dollars of imports to retaliate against the theft of American intellectual property, ratcheting up trade tensions between the world's two largest economies. 

    Mr. Trump also announced he was directing the US Trade Representative's office to pursue dispute settlement in the WTO to confront China over its policies that result in unfair treatment for US companies and innovators trying to do business in China. 

    US Trade Representative's office in a statement said these Chinese policies hurt innovators in the United States and worldwide by interfering with the ability of foreign technology holders to set market-based terms in licensing and other technology-related contracts. 

    The World Trade Organization is not only a forum for nations to negotiate trade deals, but it also acts as a court to resolve trade disputes. 

  • China will impose higher tariffs on $3 billion-worth US imports
    China unveiled plans on 23rd March to impose higher tariffs on USD 3 billion worth of American goods including pork and pipes in retaliation to US tariffs on steel and aluminium imports from Beijing

    The measures suspending tariff concessions will target 128 US products including pork, wines and seamless steel tubes. 

    According to the ministry, the measures will include a 15-per cent tariff on products including fruits, nuts, wines and seamless steel tubes, and a 25-per cent tariff on pork and recycled aluminium products. 

    The measures will be implemented in two stages. In the first stage, the 15-per cent tariff will be imposed if the two countries could not reach an agreement on trade issues within scheduled time. 

    In the second stage, the 25-per cent import tax will be imposed after evaluating the impact caused by the US policies, state-run news agency quoted the ministry as saying. 

    The move was aimed at countering US decision to impose 25 per cent tariffs on steel imports and 10 per cent on aluminium, with initial exemptions for Canada and Mexico. 

    In August 2017, the US initiated an investigation into Chinese intellectual property and technology transfers under Section 301 of the Trade Act of 1974. 

    Donald Trump announced plans to impose tariffs on up to USD 60 billion in Chinese imports and limit the investment in retaliation for years of alleged intellectual property theft. The White House said the actions were necessary to counter unfair competition from China's state-led economy. 

    The move is a major escalation of the President's 'America First' trade policy. President Trump is also calling for new limits on Chinese investment in U.S. technology, in an effort to protect what the administration calls America's 'economic seed corn.'

    The tariffs are a response to longstanding complaints that China unfairly requires U.S. companies to share their technology as a cost of doing business in that country. The administration is also concerned that China is strategically acquiring innovative technologies through investments in the United States. 

    Aides described the $50 billion figure as a conservative estimate of what forced technology transfer and other moves by China cost the U.S. economy. 

    Trump signed a presidential memorandum directing his trade representative to draw up a long list of Chinese products to which the tariffs would be applied. 

    The list will be made public in 15 days, and the tariffs would take effect after a period of public comment. The president suggested the total value of the tariffs could go as high as $60 billion. 

  • European Union leaders approve guidelines for negotiations on post-Brexit relations
    European Union leaders on 23rd March approved guidelines for the negotiation of future relations with the UK after Brexit. The text on trade, security and other issues was adopted within minutes in Brussels, clearing the way for the next phase of Brexit talks to get underway. 

    The UK is due to leave in March 2019 and negotiators have said they want a deal in place by the end of the year. Prime Minister Theresa May said she believed there was a new spirit of co-operation and opportunity. 

    The formal adoption of the guidelines, although widely expected, is seen as another key step as the Brexit process gathers momentum. 

  • China President Xi Jinping set to rule for life 
    China's Parliament on 11th March abolished the decades-old two-term limit for the President, allowing Xi Jinping to remain as the country's leader for life. The constitutional changes were passed in Beijing by the annual sitting of the National People's Congress - the country's legislature - with two-third majority. 

    Of the 2,964 delegates, only two voted against the change, while three abstained. Earlier, the seven-member Standing Committee - the top most body of the ruling Communist Party of China - had unanimously approved the amendment. 64-year old Xi Jinping is currently in his second five-year term and due to retire in 2023 under the current two term system. 

  • Colombia votes with FARC as political party for the first time
    In a ballot that marks the electoral debut of the FARC political party, made up of former members of the rebel group, Colombians went to the poll on March 11 in party primaries to select the candidates who will compete in May's election to replace outgoing center-right President Juan Manuel Santos. 

    This is the first time the FARC-- previously known as Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia and now known as Revolutionary Alternative Common Force, preserving their FARC initials-- appears on a ballot and comes after thousands of members handed in their weapons under the deal signed with the government of President Juan Manuel Santos in 2016, which ended more than 52 years of war. 

    The deal guaranteed the party five seats in the Senate and five seats in the lower house through 2026, regardless of the number of votes it receives in elections. 

  • Indian President Ram Nath Kovind inaugurates World Hindi Secretariat building in Mauritius
    Indian President Ram Nath Kovind on 13th March inaugurated the World Hindi Secretariat building in Mauritius on the third day of his visit to the country. 

    He also launched the World Hindi Secretariat’s logo, an Early Digital Learning Programme as well unveiled foundation stones of a social housing project and a large ENT hospital being built with Indian assistance. 

  • Saudi Arabia cabinet approves nuclear power program national policy
    Saudi Arabia's Cabinet on 13th March approved the national policy of its atomic energy programme, as the kingdom prepares to award contracts for its first nuclear power plants. 

    The policy insists on limiting nuclear activities to peaceful purposes and calls for enhanced safety measures as well as the use of best practises for radioactive waste management

    Saudi Arabia, the world's top oil exporter, is seeking nuclear power to diversify its energy supply mix in order to free up oil to boost exports. 

    The policy announcement comes ahead of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman's visit to the United States on March 19-22, which is likely to see efforts to reach a civilian nuclear cooperation accord with Washington. 

    The kingdom has accelerated plans to build 16 nuclear reactors over the next two decades, officials and analysts say, at a cost of some 80 billion US dollars. 

  • Angela Merkel elected to fourth term as German chancellor
    Germany's Parliament elected Angela Merkel for her fourth term as chancellor on 14th March, putting an end to nearly six months of political drift in Europe's biggest economy. 

    Lawmakers voted 364-315 to re-elect Merkel, Germany's leader since 2005, who ran unopposed. 

    The coalition of Merkel's conservative Christian Democratic Union, its Bavaria-only sister party, the Christian Social Union and the centre-left Social Democrats has 399 of the 709 seats in parliament. 

    Parliamentary vote came 171 days after the election, nearly double the previous record. 

  • United Nations renewing South Sudan mission, with arms embargo threatening
    The United Nations Security Council unanimously adopted a resolution on 15th March renewing for a year its peace mission in South Sudan, while also threatening to later impose an arms embargo if necessary. 

    The strongly-worded US-drafted text is aimed at piling pressure on South Sudan's warring sides as they head into a new round of peace talks in Ethiopia next month to end the four-year war. 

  • Qatar announces 50 million Dollars donation to UNRWA in the presence of UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres
    Qatar has announced a 50 million Dollars donation to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA). 

    The donation was made during the extraordinary ministerial meeting of UNRWA held in Rome, Italy in the presence of UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres

    Qatar also announced that it has continued to finance projects implemented by the UNRWA, especially in the education and health sectors. 

    Qatar is facing a nine-month boycott by its Gulf allies, which accused Doha of supporting extremist political movements in the Middle East, including Hezbollah, the Muslim Brotherhood, and Hamas. Qatar has categorically denied the allegations. 

  • United Nations issues $951 million dollars appeal for Rohingya refugees
    The United Nations has issued an appeal for 951 million Dollars to meet the needs of nearly 900,000 Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh. 

    UN High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi said in Geneva that they are talking about truly critical needs both on the part of the Bangladeshi communities who have so generously opened their doors and of a stateless and refugee population that even prior to this crisis was among the world's most marginalised and at risk. 

    Grandi's remarks came on 16th March while he was launching the 2018 Joint Response Plan for the Rohingya humanitarian crisis. 

    Over the months since the most recent Rohingya influx began, it has become the world's fastest growing refugee crisis with tens of thousands fleeing by land and sea daily from Myanmar's northern Rakhine state at the peak of the emergency. 

    So far, the emergency response from September 2017 to February 2018 has received 321 million Dollars of the 434 million required. 

  • Egypt court upholds Red Sea islands transfer to Saudi Arabia
    Egypt's top court has upheld a deal to transfer two Red Sea islands to Saudi Arabia. Situated between the two countries, the islands of Tiran and Sanafir are largely unoccupied but they lie in a strategically important and politically sensitive area. 

    The agreement was first announced during the visit of Saudi King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud to Cairo in April 2016. He had also announced a multi-billion-dollar package of investments and soft loans for Egypt. 

    The decision by the Egypt Supreme Court nullifies the contradictory rulings two other lower courts had given, with the Supreme Administrative Court opposing ceding control of the islands and the Court of Urgent Matters approving the deal. 

    The Supreme Court ruled the deal was not unconstitutional, adding that approving the deal was down to Egypt's legislative body. 

  • Marshall Islands creates its virtual currency equaling US dollar
    The tiny Marshall Islands is creating its own digital currency in order to raise some hard cash to pay bills and boost the economy. 

    The Pacific island nation said it became the first country in the world to recognise a cryptocurrency as its legal tender when it passed a law to create the digital "Sovereign," or SOV. In the nation of 60,000, the cryptocurrency will have equal status with the US dollar as a form of payment. 

    Venezuela last month became the first country to launch its own cryptocurrency when it launched the virtual 'Petro', backed by crude oil reserves. 

    The Marshall Islands said the SOV will be different because it will be recognized in law as legal tender, effectively backed by the government. 

    The Marshall Islands is partnering with Israeli company Neema to launch the SOV. It plans to sell some of the currency to international investors and spend the proceeds. It said the SOV will require users to identify themselves, thus avoiding the anonymity that has kept bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies from gaining support from governments. 

    The Marshall Islands is closely aligned with the U.S. under a Compact of Free Association and uses the dollar as its currency. Under the compact, the US provides the Marshall Islands with about USD 70 million each year in assistance. The U.S. runs a military base on Kwajalein Atoll. 

    Lawmakers passed the cryptocurrency measure following five days of heated debate. It's unclear when the nation will issue the currency. Leaders hope the SOV will one day be used by residents for everything from paying taxes to buying groceries. 

    The law states that the Marshall Islands will issue 24 million SOVs in what it calls an 'Initial Currency Offering'. Half of those will go to the government and half to Neema. 

    The Marshall Islands intends to initially sell 6 million SOVs to international investors. It said it will use the money to help pay for the budget, invest in projects to mitigate the effects of global warming and support those people still affected by U.S. nuclear testing. 

    The country also intends to hand out 2.4 million SOVs to residents. Neema Chief Executive Barak Ben-Ezer said the SOV marked a new era for cryptocurrency. 

  • Sri Lanka declares state of emergency after violence against minority community
    Sri Lankan government has declared a state of emergency in the country for seven days following violence against the minority community in Kandy district over the last two days. 

    The decision was taken in cabinet meeting to prevent the spread of communal riots to other parts of the country. The President's Office, in a message, said the emergency was promulgated to redress the unsatisfactory security situation prevailing in certain parts of the country. 

    The decision comes as curfew was reimposed in two police divisions of Kandy district till tense situation. 

    This is the second such incident over past couple of weeks after Ampara in eastern province witnessed similar attacks in January, 2018. 

  • Iran signs deal with China to connect key port to rail network
    China will build a train line connecting the Iranian port of Bushehr to the rest of the country's railway network under a 700 million USW dollar deal signed on 7th March. The agreement was inked in Tehran in the presence of Iranian Transport Minister Abbas Akhoundi and officials from China Machinery Industry Construction Group. 

    It will see the group build a 400-kilometre railway line between the Gulf port and the southern city of Shiraz. 

    This would complete the "North-South Railway Corridor" in line with Iran's goal of becoming a transport hub for goods between the Gulf, the Indian subcontinent, Russia and Central Asia. China is Iran's biggest economic and trading partner. 

  • Over 100 ministers punished in Xi's anti-graft campaign
    More than 100 Chinese ministers were among 2.63 lakh people punished for corruption in the country over the past five years. A report delivered by Chief Justice Zhou Qiang of China's Supreme Court to the National People's Congress, the country's Parliament said, courts at various levels concluded 1.95 lakh graft cases from 2013 to 2017, implicating 2.63 lakh people. 

    This included cases involving 101 former officials at the provincial and ministerial level or above over the past five years. A total of 13,000 people were convicted for offering bribes, the report said. 

  • President Trump signs order on steel and aluminium tariffs, exempts 2 countries
    US President Donald Trump on 9th March signed two proclamations that impose 25 per cent tariff on imported steel and 10 per cent on aluminium. The contentious tariffs come into effect in 15 days. 

    Though primarily targeted at the massive steel and aluminium dumping by China, only two countries - Canada and Mexico - have been exempted from the new import tariff, that too till the time the North America Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) negotiations are complete. 

    Other countries would have to negotiate with US Trade Representatives (USTR) if they want exemptions from the steel and aluminium import tariff, Trump said as he vowed to slap "reciprocal tariffs" on countries like China and India if they do not match America's tariff. 

    The import tariffs are likely to face retaliation from America's top trading partners, the European Union and China. 

    Trump signed the proclamations in presence of steel workers from Pennsylvania, Vice President Mike Pence, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross, United States Trade Representative Robert E Lighthizer and economist Peter Navarro, architect of his steel and aluminium policy. 

    Reiterating that countries - including America's "friends and allies" - have been fleecing the US economy and taking away jobs for decades, Trump pledged to impose "reciprocal tax".

  • ISA-ADB, NDB, GCF, AfDB and AIIB joint declarations of Financial partnership 
    The Asian Development Bank (ADB) and the International Solar Alliance (ISA) on 10th March signed a cooperation arrangement to promote solar energy deployment in Asia and the Pacific. The cooperation envisages solar power generation, solar based mini-grids and transmission systems for integrating solar energy into grids. The objective of the agreements is to deepen their cooperation in support of Renewable Energy. 

  • China sets stage for President Xi Jinping to stay in office indefinitely
    China's ruling Communist Party on 25th February set the stage for President Xi Jinping to stay in office indefinitely, with a proposal to remove a constitutional clause limiting presidential service to just two terms in office. 

    The announcement, carried by state news agency Xinhua said, the proposal had been made by the party's Central Committee, the largest of its elite ruling bodies. It said, the proposal also covers the vice president position. 

    Xinhua said, the Communist Party of China Central Committee proposed to remove the expression that the President and Vice-President of the People's Republic of China shall serve no more than two consecutive terms' from the country's Constitution. 

    Constitutional reform needs to be approved by parliament. That is stacked with members chosen for their loyalty to the party, meaning the reform will not be blocked. 

  • Russia vetoes UN draft resolution pressuring Iran over Yemen
    Russia vetoed on 27th February a UN draft resolution presented by Britain that would have pressured Iran over its failure to block supplies of missiles to Yemen's Huthi rebels. The text, strongly supported by the United States, won 11 favourable votes at the 15-member Security Council but was blocked by Russia's veto. 

    China and Kazakhstan abstained, while Bolivia also voted against the measure. Nine votes and no vetoes from the five permanent council members - Britain, France, China, Russia and the United States - are required to adopt resolutions at the Security Council. 

    After the veto, the council unanimously adopted a Russian-drafted measure that extended for one year the sanctions regime against Yemen, but that text made no mention of Iran. Britain had sought to include in its measure an expression of "particular concern" from the council over a UN report that found Iran had violated the 2015 arms embargo on Yemen. 

  • Shahbaz Sharif becomes interim President of ruling PML-N
    In Pakistan, Shahbaz Sharif, Punjab Province Chief Minister, was on 27th February elected as interim President of the PML-N while his elder brother and ousted Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif was made the ruling party's top leader, 'Quaid' for lifetime. 

    The PML-N elected its new head days after the Supreme Court disqualified 68-year-old Nawaz as the Chief of his party and struck down all decisions taken by him as the party head. 

    Shahbaz, 66, has been elected as the party's president for 45 days by its Central Working Committee (CWC) in a meeting held in Sharif's Model Town Lahore residence 27th February. 

    The meeting also approved making Nawaz PML-N top leader for lifetime and also paid tributes to his service for the party, country and democracy. 

    Under the party's rules, the PML-N's CWC is supposed to elect an acting party head within a week of its chief's removal. 

    Then the party's general council is required to elect a president within 45 days. Nawaz was removed from the post of PML-N president by the apex court on the 22nd of this month. 

  • US confirms tariffs on Chinese aluminum foil
    The US Commerce Department has upheld tariffs imposed last year on imports of Chinese aluminum foil valued at nearly USD 400 million a year saying the product receives unfair subsidies from Beijing. 

    The decision intensified the mounting trade confrontation between Beijing and Washington, which is considering far-reaching duties on Chinese goods in an effort to reduce the US trade deficit. 

    However, the move was unrelated to the White House’s imminent decision on whether to retaliate against high imports aluminum and steel, which the Commerce Department claims are undermining US national security preparedness, with the finger pointed principally at Beijing. 

    The agency said Chinese manufacturers have been dumping aluminum foil into the US market at below market price, with margins between 48.6 per cent and 106.9 per cent. The product also benefitted from unfair subsidies at rates as high as 80.9 per cent. 

    Chinese authorities have warned that Washington risks undermining vital trade relations by threatening to impose tariffs on its exports. Analysts also say such actions also increase the chances of a tit-for-tat trade war. 

    Commerce Department investigators had reached preliminary findings in August and in October that Chinese exporters were dumping aluminum foil, worth an estimated USD 389 million in 2016, on the US market. US customs authorities were instructed to collect cash deposits on imports at the time. 

    The independent US International Trade Commission is due to vote in April on the separate question of whether domestic industry has been harmed by the imports. Should the ITC fail to find in the affirmative, the tariffs will be canceled. The commission rarely blocks the imposition of tariffs. 

    The Commerce Department claims to have launched 102 such trade cases against dumping and unfair subsidies, nearly doubling the number of actions brought by the prior administration during the same period. 

  • Russian President Vladimir Putin unveils new nuclear weapons to counter US
    President Vladimir Putin unveiled an array of new nuclear weapons on 1st March, in one of his most bellicose speeches in years, saying they could hit almost any point in the world and not be intercepted. 

    Putin also said that a nuclear attack on any of Moscow's allies would be regarded as an attack on Russia itself and draw an immediate response. 

    Among the new weapons that Putin said were either in development or ready: a new intercontinental ballistic missile, a small nuclear warhead that could be attached to cruise missiles, underwater nuclear drones, a supersonic weapon and a laser weapon. 

  • Russia breaching Cold War-era treaties, says U.S. 
    The U.S. has accused Moscow of openly breaching Cold War-era treaties by developing what Russian President Vladimir Putin called a new generation of “invincible” hypersonic weapons and submarines. 

    Mr. Putin unveiled the new arsenal on 1st March in a State of the Nation address, challenging Washington to a new arms race ahead of a March 18 presidential election that will all but certainly confirm his grip on power. 

    The U.S. State Department expressed outrage at Mr. Putin’s presentation and his “cheesy” animated video of warheads over U.S. soil. 

  • 1.5 million penguins discovered on remote Antarctic islands
    A thriving "hotspot" of 1.5 million Adelie penguins, a species fast declining in parts of the world, has been discovered on remote islands off the Antarctic Peninsula

    The first bird census of the Danger Islands unearthed over 750,000 Adelie breeding pairs, more than the rest of the area combined, the team reported in the journal Scientific Reports. The group of nine rocky islands, which lie off the northern tip nearest South America, in the northwest Weddell Sea, housed the third- and fourth-largest Adelie penguin colonies in the world, they found. 

    Adelies are one of five penguin species that live in and around the Antarctic continent. A medium-sized penguin, they grow to about 70 centimetres (almost 28 inches) tall, and weigh three to six kilogrammes (about seven to 13 pounds). They are identified by a white ring around the eye. They are carnivores, and krill - shrimp-like creatures that are commercially fished in the area is an Adelie staple. 

    Evidence of the previously-unknown penguin colony first emerged in data from the Landsat Earth-monitoring satellites run by NASA and the US Geological Survey. Lynch and her team "then went and looked at higher resolution commercial imagery to confirm the guano staining that our algorithms had picked up in the Landsat imagery," she said. When the Landsat data originally suggested the presence of hundreds of thousands of penguins on the islands, she thought it "was a mistake".

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