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Steps taken by Pakistan were at odds with stated goal of free, fair and transparent polls: US

Press Trust of India

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Washington:Some steps, including the curbs on freedom of expression and association taken by authorities in Pakistan ahead of the general elections, were at odds with their stated goal of a free, fair and transparent polls, the Trump administration has said as it voiced its concern over the July 25 poll process. Cricketer-turned politician Imran Khan led his Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) party to victory in the parliamentary elections this week, amid a growing consensus among South Asia experts and Pakistan-observers that it was greatly influenced and meddled by the strong Pakistani Army.
The development of strong democratic and civilian institutions of governance and a vibrant civil society is critical to Pakistan’s long-term stability and prosperity, US State Department Spokesperson Heather Nauert said in the first official US statement since the general elections in Pakistan on Wednesday. “In that context, the United States shares concerns about flaws in the pre-voting electoral process, as expressed by the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan,” she said.
Malaysian politicians from both government and opposition camps complained of “dirty tricks” after voting in a general election began on Wednesday, as non-stop spam calls to their mobile phones disrupted communications with party organisers.
“These included constraints placed on freedoms of expression and association during the campaign period that were at odds with Pakistani authorities’ stated goal of a fully fair and transparent election,” Nauert said.
Khan was today inching closer to form a government in Pakistan with the support of allies and independents even as a multi-party meeting rejected the poll results alleging rigging and demanded “transparent” re-election.
So far Khan’s PTI has bagged 115 of the 270 National Assembly seats on which elections were held. The US also joined the European Union in expressing concern over the pre-poll violence and restrictions posed on freedom of expression and association ahead of the general elections that were conducted in Pakistan and noted that it looks forward to working with the new elected government in Islamabad.
“The United States concurs with the conclusions of the European Union Election Observation Mission, whose report notes that while there were positive changes to the legal framework for elections in Pakistan, these were overshadowed by restrictions on freedom of expression and unequal campaign opportunities,” she said.
“The US also has deep reservations over the participation of terrorist-affiliated individuals in the elections, but we commend Pakistani voters for fully rejecting these candidates at the ballot box on Wednesday,” Nauert said. She said the US, along with its international partners, will continue to encourage a broadening of opportunities for political participation for all Pakistanis and for the further strengthening of legitimate, democratic institutions.
“As Pakistan’s elected leaders form a new government, the United States will look for opportunities to work with them to advance our goals of security, stability, and prosperity in South Asia,” Nauert said.
Taking note of the election results in Pakistan, Nauert said the US commends the courage of the Pakistani people, including many women, who turned out to vote and showed resolve to determine their country’s future. “We condemn the horrific acts of terrorist violence that marred this process, including the latest attack outside a polling station in Quetta on election day. We offer our deepest condolences to the victims and their families, and wish a speedy recovery to those injured,” she said.


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International

North Korea asks UN chief to address ship seizure by ‘gangster’ US

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SEOUL: North Korea has asked United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres to deal with the “illegal” seizure of one of its cargo ships by the United States, state media said on Saturday. “This act of dispossession has clearly indicated that the United States is indeed a gangster country that does not care at all about international laws,” the North Korean ambassador to the United Nations said in a letter sent to Guterres dated Friday, according to North Koreas KCNA news agency. Pyongyangs protest to the United Nations over the seizure comes amid mounting tensions since a second summit between North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and U.S. President Donald Trump, aimed at bringing about the denuclearisation of the North, broke down in Hanoi in February.
The letter also called for “urgent measures” by Guterres and claimed that Washington infringed the North`s sovereignty and violated U.N. charters. With the denuclearisation talks stalled, North Korea went ahead with more weapons tests this month. The tests were seen as a protest by Kim after Trump rejected his calls for sanctions relief at the Hanoi summit.
North Korea has said the ship seizure violated the spirit of the summit and demanded the return of the vessel without delay. The U.S. Justice Department said the North Korean cargo ship, known as the “Wise Honest”, was seized and impounded to American Samoa. The vessel was accused of illicit coal shipments in violation of sanctions and was first detained by Indonesia in April 2018.

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Trump tells Pentagon chief he doesn’t want war with Iran

Agencies

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KARACHI: Senior officials in Washington have begun looking for ways to defuse tensions with Tehran after President Donald Trump has made it clear that he doesn’t want a war with Iran, sources say.
The New York Times has reported that during a meeting Mr Trump told his acting defence secretary, Patrick Shanahan, that he does not want to go to war with Iran.
The president’s statement was meant to apprise his hawkish aides that he did not want the intensifying US pressure campaign against the Iranians to turn into an open conflict, said the newspaper.
According to another statement, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo called the leader of Oman, Sultan Qaboos bin Said, to discuss the threat posed by Iran. Oman has long been seen as an intermediary between the West and Iran.
Pompeo also asked European officials for help in persuading Iran to “de-escalate” tensions, which rose after American intelligence indicated that Iran had equipped small boats in the Persian Gulf with missiles. The information prompted fears that Tehran might strike at the United States troops and assets or those of its allies.
When asked on Thursday whether the United States was going to war with Iran, Mr Trump replied: “I hope not.”
The developments have served to highlight internal tensions in the Trump administration and prompted fears that even though the president may not be spoiling for a fight with Iran some of his aides could be.
This is happening at a time when US officials are holding an internal debate about the “gravity of the Iranian threat”. While officials and British allies say the intelligence about the threat is valid, lawmakers and some inside the administration accuse Mr Trump’s aides of exaggerating the danger and exploiting the intelligence to justify a military clash with Tehran.
Iran has dismissed any suggestion of a dialogue with the Trump administration. “The escalation by the United States is unacceptable,” Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said on Thursday.
Indeed, there was a new potential flash point in Iran’s standoff with the United States, stemming from its vow last week to step away from some of the limitations imposed by the nuclear deal, a year after the US pulled out of the agreement that was negotiated between Tehran and world powers in 2015.
State Department officials, meanwhile, have set a “red line” that they warn Iran would cross at its peril: It could not ramp up its nuclear fuel production to the point where it would produce a nuclear weapon in less than one year.
The administration officials, however, did not specify what kind of reaction — military or otherwise — would come if Iran built up enough of a stockpile of uranium and took other steps to cross that threshold.

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More than 250,000 Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh get first ID cards: UN

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Geneva: The UN said it has registered more than 250,000 Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh, providing many with their first ever identification cards and proof of their right to return to Myanmar in the future.
The UN refugee agency also said the registration could serve as a tool for law enforcement to help counter human trafficking.
Over a quarter of a million Rohingya refugees from Myanmar have now been jointly registered and provided with identity cards by Bangladesh authorities and UNHCR,” spokesman Andrej Mahecic told reporters in Geneva.
Some 740,000 Rohingya refugees fled a military crackdown in August 2017 to cross into Bangladesh where 300,000 members of the persecuted Muslim minority were already in camps.
Many Rohingya refugees who fled said there had been mass rapes and slaughters in the villages, and in a report published last September, the fact-finding mission said there were reasonable grounds to believe the atrocities amounted to “genocide”.
UNHCR puts the number of Rohingya refugees currently crowded into settlements in Cox’s Bazar at around 900,000, although the UN often gives a lower number than Bangladesh authorities and other aid organisations.
They are stateless, despite the fact that many of their families have lived in Myanmar for generations, since members of the Muslim minority have had their citizenship eroded over decades.
“The registration exercise, which began in June 2018, is about safeguarding the right of Rohingya refugees to be able to return home voluntarily to Myanmar in future,” Mahecic said.
Myanmar and Bangladesh have signed a memorandum of understanding about repatriating the Rohingya, but so far safety fears and concerns over citizenship mean the refugees have refused to return.
The new ID cards, provided to all refugees over the age of 12, lists important information, including names, family links and fingerprints and Iris scans.
Mahecic also said that the cards list Myanmar as the refugees’ country of origin.
In total, 270,348 refugees, or nearly 60,000 families, have been registered, and around 4,000 people are added to the roster each day, he said.
UNHCR’s goal is to complete the process of registering all the Rohingya in Cox’s Bazar by November.
Mahecic pointed out that comprehensive registration is important for improving the accuracy of data on refugees in Bangladesh, and provides authorities and humanitarians with a better understanding of the population and its needs.
He also said that the registration “can also serve as a better tool vis-a-vis the authorities to prevent and combat smuggling and trafficking”.
His comment came after a rise in attempted human smuggling of Rohingya in the last few months, amid growing desperation in the camps.
Earlier this week, Bangladeshi police shot dead two suspected Rohingya human traffickers, after rescuing 103 refugees in two days about to make the perilous sea voyage to Malaysia.

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