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China warns US to avoid islands it claims in South China Sea

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Washington: China bluntly told the United States to stop sending ships and military aircraft close to islands claimed by Beijing in the South China Sea, during talks Saturday that set the stage for a meeting between President Donald Trump and President Xi Jinping later this month.

The US pushed back, insisting it will continue to “fly, sail and operate wherever international law allows.” In late September, U.S. and Chinese vessels nearly collided near a disputed reef.

Despite the frank airing of differences at the meeting in Washington of the two nations’ top diplomats and military chiefs, both sides stressed the need to tamp down tensions, which have flared amid a bitter trade dispute that Trump and Xi are expected to tackle at the Group of 20 summit in Argentina.

“The United States is not pursuing a policy of Cold War containment with China,” Secretary of State Mike Pompeo told reporters following the US-China Diplomatic and Security Dialogue. “Rather we want to ensure that China acts responsibly and fairly in support of security and prosperity of each of our two countries.”

The talks were due to be held in Beijing last month but were postponed after Washington announced new arms sales to Taiwan, and after a Chinese destroyer came close to the USS Decatur in late September in what the U.S. Navy called an “unsafe and unprofessional maneuver.” Beijing has sweeping but disputed sovereignty claims in the area.

“The Chinese side made it clear to the United States that it should stop sending its vessels and military aircraft close to Chinese islands and reefs and stop actions that undermine Chinese authority and security interests,” said Pompeo’s Chinese counterpart, Yang Jiechi, who also had sharp words over US support for Taiwan.

However, Yang and Chinese defense minister Wei Fenghe spoke of the need to improve cooperation, including between the U.S. and Chinese militaries, to ease the risk of conflict as the two powers jockey for pre-eminence in the Asia-Pacific.

“Cooperation is the only option for us,” Wei said. “Confrontation and conflict between the two militaries will spell disaster for us all.” Defense Secretary Jim Mattis asserted U.S. rights to freedom of navigation but also said the two sides should work together on areas of common interest. “Competition does not mean hostility. Nor must it lead to conflict,” Mattis said.


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International

US adds Pakistan, China to its blacklist for religious freedom violations

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Washington: Pakistan, China and Saudi Arabia are among countries added to a US blacklist of nations that violate religious freedom, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said.

Pompeo said he has designated Pakistan, China, Saudi Arabia, Myanmar, Eritrea, Iran, North Korea, Sudan, Tajikistan and Turkmenistan as “Countries of Particular Concern” in a congressionally mandated annual report.

The development comes a year after the US State Department put Pakistan on a watchlist without legal consequences.

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Netanyahu threats Hezbollah with ‘unimaginable blows’

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Jerusalem: Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu warned that the Lebanese Hezbollah militia will be dealt “unimaginable blows” if it resists Israel’s recent operation to destroy cross-border tunnels.

The remarks were made by Netayahu during a tour along the northern border, where the Israeli army has uncovered three Hezbollah tunnels crossing from southern Lebanon into Israeli territory, reports Xinhua.

“The most important thing is the readiness here for a much stronger response if Hezbollah makes a major mistake and decides to attack us or oppose our action,”

Netanyahu said, according to a statement released by his office.

“Hezbollah will be dealt unimaginable blows,” he said.

During the tour, Netanyahu, who is also Israel’s defence minister, held a security meeting with Israeli army’s Chief-of-Staff Gadi Eizenkot.

“We are systematically dismantling the tunnels,” he said, adding the operation will continue “as long as necessary.”

“We are carrying out exactly what we planned but we are ready for the unexpected. There is great firepower here,” he added.

Israel launched the “Northern Shield” operation on December 4 in order to locate and thwart the cross-border tunnels built by Hezbollah, a Shiite militia backed by Iran. Israel has claimed that Hezbollah plans to use the cross-border tunnels to infiltrate into Israel.

Israel and Hezbollah fought a month-long war in 2006 that ended in a ceasefire.

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100 injured in BD poll campaign violence

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DHAKA: Bangladesh’s election campaign turned violent with scores injured at political rallies across the country, as police fired pellet guns into crowds and stick-wielding mobs attacked rival candidates.

Police said clashes broke out in at least seven major towns on just the second day of campaigning, injuring nearly 100 people who turned out to cheer the two major parties contesting the December 30 poll.

The unrest follows a crackdown on the Bangladesh Nationalist Party in recent weeks, with hundreds of supporters from the main opposition movement thrown behind bars before campaigning had even begun.

In Thakurgaon, a northern district, a motorcade for the BNP’s secretary general Fakhrul Islam Alamgir was set upon by a huge crowd swinging batons.

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