India’s PM Modi sets off on multi-summit tour of Myanmar, Australia and Fiji

India’s prime minister Narendra Modi has set off on a tour which will take in summits and key bilateral talks in Myanmar, Australia and Fiji. In his first stop in Myanmar (also known as Burma), he will attend the Asean and East Asia Summit.

He will then visit Australia — the first by an Indian PM in 28 years — to attend the G20 summit, before going on to Fiji.

The prime minister will begin his tour in Myanmar’s capital Naypyidaw, where he will attend the Asean-India summit and the East Asia Summit between November 12 and 13. There he is expected to meet President Thein Sein as well as opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi, officials said.

He will leave Myanmar to go to Brisbane to participate in the G20 summit and then travel to Sydney, Canberra and Melbourne on a bilateral visit from November 16-18.

The highlight of his Australia visit is due to be his address to the joint sitting of the parliament in Canberra and his address to the Indian community at a reception at Sydney’s Olympic park, which is expected to be attended by more than 15,000 people.

Mr Modi, who led his BJP party to a massive win in the summer’s general election, said in a pre-departure statement that he would raise the issue of international co-operation on illegal money and take up the creation of digital infrastructure and access to clean energy.

China calls for increased trade ties at APEC summit

Chinese President Xi Jinping called on Asia-Pacific leaders on November 11 to strengthen trade ties at a summit Beijing is using to boost its role as a regional power with a flurry of trade and finance pacts.

Speaking at the opening ceremony of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit to leaders including President Barack Obama and Russia’s Vladimir Putin, Xi called for progress on a ‘road map’ toward closer economic integration among the group’s 21 member economies. They include 40 per cent of the world’s population and 60 per cent of global economic output.

APEC, which also includes Japan, South Korea and Australia, is the first major international gathering in China since Xi took power. The presence of world leaders gives Beijing a platform to lobby for a bigger leadership role.

On the eve of the gathering, Beijing announced a free-trade agreement with South Korea and the same day regulators approved a plan to open Chinese stock markets wider to foreign investors. That followed the weekend announcement of a $40 billion Chinese-financed fund to improve trade links between Asian economies.

Despite US pressure to make progress on other initiatives, it is the first time Beijing has taken the lead in promoting a multinational trade agreement. The moves reflect Beijing’s insistence on having a bigger role to reflect China’s status as the world’s second-biggest economy.
China says its motives are benign. But its growing economic weight as the top trading partner for most of its neighbours from South Korea to Australia could erode US influence.

A disagreement between China and Japan over islands in the East China Sea and other issues has raised fears of a military confrontation, which could draw in the United States, Japan’s ally. On November 7, the two sides issued a joint statement agreeing to gradually resume political, diplomatic and security dialogues.

In an effort to appear more open, organisers took the unusual step of allowing access from the press centre to websites such as Facebook, Twitter and YouTube that are usually blocked by China’s extensive Internet filters.

Pakistan arrests dozens over Christian lynchings

Dozens of people were arrested November 5 in Pakistan after a Christian couple were beaten to death and their bodies burned in a brick kiln for allegedly desecrating a Qur’an.

Blasphemy is a serious offence in conservative Muslim Pakistan, where those accused are sometimes lynched.

The couple had been accused of burning a copy of the holy book and throwing it in a bin in Kot Radha Kishan, Punjab province.

‘We have arrested 44 people, it was a local issue incited by the mullah of a local mosque,’ Jawad Qamar, a regional police chief, said. ‘No particular sectarian group or religious outfit was behind the attack.’

Blasphemy charges, even when they reach court, are punishable by death in Pakistan. But such claims are hard to challenge because the law does not define clearly what constitutes blasphemy, and merely presenting the evidence can sometimes be considered an infringement.

Christians comprise about 4 per cent of the population and tend to keep a low profile in a country where Sunni Muslim militants frequently bomb targets they regard as heretical, including those used by other Muslim denominations.

Minority groups have long complained that the state is failing to protect them and even tolerates violence against them. A local journalist, who spoke on condition of anonymity for security reasons, said police were too slow to act to protect the couple. ‘Police did not take it seriously. Later they sent five officers to the spot,’ the journalist said. ‘The couple was thrashed and burnt in their presence.’

Last month a British man with a history of mental illness who had been sentenced to death for blasphemy this year was shot by a prison guard in his cell. Also in October a Pakistani court upheld the death penalty against Asia Bibi, a Christian woman accused of blasphemy, in a case that drew global headlines after two prominent politicians who tried to help her were assassinated.

Egypt jihadists vow loyalty to IS

The leader of the Islamic State organisation won the allegiance of Egypt’s deadliest militant group on November 10 as Iraqi authorities investigated reports he had been killed or wounded in a US air strike.

Egypt’s Ansar Beit al-Maqdis, which has carried out a string of deadly attacks from its Sinai stronghold, pledged loyalty to Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi — the self-declared IS ‘caliph’.

There was speculation that Baghdadi, whose group has seized large parts of Iraq and Syria, was killed or wounded in a US strike November 7 on jihadist leaders in northern Iraq, but there has been no confirmation.

In a recording posted on Twitter, Ansar Beit al-Maqdis promised its loyalty to IS and urged other Muslims to do the same: ‘We announce our pledge of allegiance to the caliph Ibrahim Ibn Awad… to listen and obey,’ the audio recording said, using another name for Baghdadi. ‘We call on all Muslims everywhere to pledge allegiance to the caliph and support him.’

It was the most significant vow of support for IS in the region outside Iraq and Syria, suggesting its influence over militant groups is overshadowing its once dominant al-Qaeda rivals.

Obama calls for tougher ‘net neutrality’ rules

Barack Obama has said internet service providers should be regulated like public utilities to make sure they grant equal access to all content providers.

The US President said the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) should explicitly prohibit internet providers from charging data hogs like Netflix extra to move their content more quickly.

‘No service should be stuck in a “slow lane” because it does not pay a fee,’ Mr Obama, who is currently in Asia, said in a ‘net neutrality’ statement released by the White House.

‘Net neutrality’ is the idea that internet service providers should not block, slow or manipulate data moving across its networks, provided the content is not against the law.

In 2010, the FCC embraced the concept in a rule, but in January this year a federal appeals court struck down the regulation, saying the FCC did not have the legal authority to tell broadband providers how to manage their networks.

And in May FCC chairman Tom Wheeler proposed new internet traffic rules that would allow content companies to strike ‘commercially reasonable’ deals to ensure their websites and applications load smoothly and swiftly. Public interest groups worried his proposed rules would create ‘fast lanes’ for paying companies and relegate others to ‘slow lanes’.

Consumer groups and content providers hailed Mr Obama’s move, while some major players — such as Netflix — were not pleased. Netflix posted to its Facebook page that ‘consumers should pick winners and losers on the internet, not broadband gatekeepers’.

Israel: security heightened after deadly Palestinian attacks

Following two deadly Palestinian attacks, Israel said on November 11 it was tightening security in major cities, including Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, and in the West Bank amid fears that the violence could spread further.

The move comes a day after a Palestinian from the West Bank city of Nablus stabbed a 20-year-old Israeli soldier at a crowded Tel Aviv train station. The soldier later died of his wounds. Also on November 10, a Palestinian assailant stabbed three people at a bus stop next to a West Bank settlement, killing a 25-year-old Israeli woman and wounding two others.

The violence comes amid rising tensions spawned by conflicting claims to a Jerusalem holy site and the aftermath of this summer’s bloody Gaza war, in which more than 2,100 Palestinians and 70 Israelis were killed.

In recent weeks Palestinians in east Jerusalem have carried out violent protests, alleging that Jewish zealots are secretly trying to gain control of the site, known to Jews as the Temple Mount and to Muslims as the Noble Sanctuary. Complicating the situation, tensions have risen following the killing of an Israeli Arab by a policeman in the northern Israeli town of Kfar Kana on November 8.

Israeli media debated whether the country was on the verge of a new Palestinian uprising or ‘intifada’, similar to those from the late 1980s and the first decade of the 2000s that took hundreds of lives..

Business leaders warn Cameron: ‘immigration is part of solution, notproblem’

David Cameron was urged to keep Britain in the European Union yesterday — by business leaders who told him immigration was a part of the solution, not the problem. The prime minister was warned that leaving the economic group would mean ‘shutting ourselves off from the world’.

Recruits from overseas were needed to plug skills shortages, said Sir Michael Rake, head of the Confederation of British Industry. He added: ‘By withdrawing from Europe, we do not become more open to trade elsewhere. Instead we turn inwards, going against the grain of an increasingly connected world.’ Four out of five members of the CBI would vote for Britain to remain in Europe, Sir Michael told the organisation’s conference in London.

Mr Cameron, who was a guest speaker, promised reforms to equip more British workers with job skills. But he told delegates he might back an EU exit if he cannot secure tighter immigration controls. ‘Simply standing here and just saying “I will stay in Europe come what may” is not a plan and will not work,’ he said.

Labour leader Ed Miliband told the CBI the prime minister had sent a dangerous message by ‘flirting’ with leaving the EU.
Meanwhile, home secretary Theresa May appeared to backtrack when she called Mr Cameron’s 2011 promise to keep net migration to 100,000 a year a ‘comment’. Figures showed it has now hit 243,000.

Suicide blast at Nigeria school kills 48 students

suicide bomber has struck at a school in northeast Nigeria, killing 48 students and wounding 79 others.

The attacker — disguised in a school uniform — detonated explosives as about 2,000 students were gathered for weekly assembly on the morning of November 10 at the Government Technical Science College in Potiskum, Yobe state.

A teacher at the college described the explosion: ‘The students had gathered for the morning assembly when something exploded in their midst with a thunderous sound at exactly 7:50 am (0650 GMT).’

Victims of the blast were taken to the Potiskum General Hospital, where staff said scores of students had already been admitted. Dozens of survivors are being treated for serious injuries and many will need amputations.

No one immediately claimed responsibility for the attack in Yobe state but police have said that it was likely carried out by the Islamist group Boko Haram. It was the second attack in Potiskum in a week, following the killing of over 20 people in a suicide blast at a Shia religious ceremony on November 3.

The group, which wants to create an Islamic state in northern Nigeria, has previously carried out deadly attacks on schools teaching what it regards as a Western curriculum since 2009. Boko Haram’s most high-profile attack on a school came in April, when fighters kidnapped 276 girls from the town of Chibok in Borno state, also in northeast Nigeria. More than six months later, 219 of the girls are still being held.

Nuclear construction deal signed by Russia and Iran

Russia will build two new nuclear power plant units in Iran under an agreement signed in Moscow on November 11 between subsidiaries of the two countries’ state atomic agencies.

The agreement precedes a November 24 deadline for a deal at talks between Iran and world powers that would curb Tehran’s nuclear programme, which the West says may be aimed at building atomic weapons but Iran says is for peaceful purposes.

Russia, which is involved in those talks, will also cooperate with Teheran on developing more nuclear power units in Iran, and consider producing nuclear fuel components there, according to a memorandum signed by the heads of the state atomic bodies, Sergey Kirienko of Russia’s Rosatom and Ali Akbar Salehi of Iran’s Atomic Energy Organisation (AEOI).

Iran already runs one Russian-built reactor in its Bushehr power plant.

Cameron: UK doesn’t want new Cold War with Russia but can’t ignore Ukraine

Prime minister David Cameron said on November 10 that Britain didn’t want a new Cold War with Russia, but signalled he was ready to back tougher sanctions against Moscow if it continued to destabilise Ukraine.

Addressing an audience in London at the Lord Mayor’s banquet, an event traditionally dominated by the foreign policy crisis of the day, Mr Cameron said Russia’s actions posed a grave threat to the rest of Europe but that it wasn’t too late to avoid a new ‘Cold War’. He was referring to the warning about East-West tensions over the Ukraine crisis issued by Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev the previous week.

‘That is not an outcome we believe to be inevitable and neither is it one we seek,’ Mr Cameron said. ‘And I will make that clear to President Putin in Brisbane this weekend.’

Cameron and Putin will both attend a meeting of G20 leaders in Australia from November 15-16.

The British leader was speaking after a weekend that saw the heaviest shelling in a month in Ukraine hit the main rebel stronghold in the east and signs that Moscow had dispatched troops and tanks to reinforce separatists.

Up for re-election next year and faced with domestic difficulties over his policy on Europe and immigration, Cameron is keen for voters to see him as a serious player on the world stage and to make the point that Britain’s own economic fortunes depend on engaging internationally to stem instability.

Cameron said ‘a military solution’ to the Ukraine crisis was not an option, but that EU sanctions against Russia were having an impact and he was ready to keep upping the pressure on Moscow if it continued to destabilise Ukraine and violate its territorial integrity.

Spanish PM dubs Catalan breakaway vote a ‘deep failure’

Spain’s prime minister Mariano Rajoy has branded the Catalonia region’s symbolic vote on independence a failure, but says he is open to constitutional reform to answer Catalan demands.

‘We have witnessed a deep failure for the independence movement,’ Rajoy told a recent news conference, adding that constitutional reform was ‘the only legal and responsible course’.

Catalonia’s leaders said that 2.3 million people in the region of 7.5 million turned out for the November 9 vote, which was stripped of legal force after challenges from Madrid.

Rajoy, who fiercely opposes the breakup of Spain, said the vote was an ‘act of political propaganda’ to which ‘two out of three Catalans paid no attention’.

Catalonia’s president Artur Mas has reached out to Rajoy for a ‘permanent dialogue’ with a view to holding ‘a definitive and politically binding consultation’ in the region.

‘I have never refused dialogue, with Mr Mas or anyone,’ Rajoy said, but he reiterated that a ‘real referendum… cannot be’ under Spain’s constitution.

‘If Mr Mas intends to reform the constitution… he has a perfect right’ to propose reforms in the regional parliament, Rajoy said. ‘What he doesn’t appear to have is support for that.’

Demands for independence in Catalonia have grown over recent years despite Madrid’s resistance, fanned by the economic crisis. The region accounts for nearly a fifth of Spain’s economy but is also one of its most indebted regions.

News in Brief

Police deaths in Afghan bombings
Bombings by the Taliban in three Afghani cities have killed at least ten policemen, officials say. Taliban militants claimed responsibility for two of the attacks, those in Logar province and Nangarhar province. Nobody has claimed responsibility for the third blast, which took place near a university in Kabul.The Taliban have been working to regain control of the country as foreign troops withdraw.

Islamabad to aid China fight Islamist extremists
Islamabad is to help Beijing in its fight against Islamist extremists active in China’s Xinjiang region, Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif has declared during a November 8 meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping. The prime minister also said Islamabad would increase its coordination with Beijing on Afghanistan and would do all it can to guarantee the safety of Chinese companies and workers in Pakistan. The announcement comes as Pakistan continues to combat jihadists along its borders.

Storming of national palace
Demonstrators protesting against the Mexican government’s response to the case of the missing 43 teaching students have stormed and set fire to the national palace. Demonstrators outside the Guerrero governor’s offices also burned cars and trucks. The protests intensified after the attorney general made comments that were perceived to dismiss the importance of the kidnappings.

Hong Kong protestors told: quit protest sites
Hong Kong’s acting chief executive has called on pro-democracy protesters to clear sites they have occupied, Hong King-based Chinese language newspaper Wen Wei Po has reported. Hong Kong’s Chief Secretary Carrie Lam said the government was willing to restart public dialogue on political reforms. In response to students’ plans to take the case to Beijing, Lam said there would be no talks until the demands laid by the Hong Kong government and Beijing are met.

Funeral of Zambia’s president attended by thousands
The funeral of Zambian President Michael Sata attracted more than 50,000 mourners in the capital, Lusaka, including several African leaders. Heroes Stadium was filled to capacity November 11 with hundreds more waiting outside the gates. Zimbabwe’s President Robert Mugabe and Kenya’s President Uhuru Kenyatta were in attendance, along with heads of state from Namibia and Madagascar and vice presidents from South Africa, Tanzania and Swaziland. Zambia’s first independence leader and first president, Kenneth Kaunda, also attended the funeral. Sata, 77, served as president of the southern African nation since 2011.