Maduro wins Venezuelan presidential election branded ‘illegitimate’ by opposition

By ethan / May 21, 2018

Nicolas Maduro has been declared the winner of Sunday’s presidential election, which saw a 46.1 percent turnout, according to Venezuela’s electoral council, after the opposition branded the vote a fraud and called for a boycott.

With 92.6 percent of the vote counted, Maduro has won presidential election with 5,823,728 of the votes, National Electoral Council chief Tibisay Lucena announced. His main adversary, Henri Falcon of the Progressive Advance party, obtained 1,820,552 votes; while the independent candidate Javier Bertucci won 925,042 votes.

“How much have they underestimated our revolutionary people, and how much have they underestimated me,” Maduro told a late-night crowd in front of the presidential palace. “And here we are, victorious.”

Over eight million Venezuelans participated in the election, which witnessed a low 46.1 percent participation rate after opposition parties called for a boycott of the election, declaring them a “fraud.”

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Moscow seeks deeper strategic partnership with BRICS – Russia’s ambassador to US

By ethan / May 21, 2018

Developing close relations with the BRICS states remains one of Moscow’s top foreign policy priorities, Russia’s ambassador to the US, Anatoly Antonov, said at a business conference ahead of Narendra Modi’s visit to Sochi.

“Deeper strategic partnership in BRICS is one of the priorities of Russia’s foreign policy. Over recent years, the alliance has matured, turning into a full-scale mechanism of cooperation,” Antonov said last week, concluding the VI Annual Conference ‘Doing Business with the BRICS’ in Washington DC.

Noting the increasing global role of BRICS countries, comprising Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa, Antonov highlighted the main benefits of the association of five major emerging world economies, noting that the New Development Bank serves to reform the “outdated” global financial system.

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Narendra Modi and Vladimir Putin in St.Petersburg in 2017.

“We coordinate our steps on pressing issues of international agenda, on combating terrorism and drugs, international information security,” Antonov said, as cited in the embassy’s weekly newsletter. “The establishment of the New Development Bank by BRICS countries and a $ 200-billion Reserve Currency Pool has become momentous for reforming the outdated global financial system, dominated by the Western countries.”

Looking into the future prospects of the bloc’s multilateral relations, Antonov said that BRICS plans to further expand the areas of cooperation, namely in peacekeeping, joint production of vaccines, and various other areas such as the tourism industry. Recalling that the association’s main motto is openness, the ambassador told reporters on Thursday that BRICS plans to potentially incorporate more countries in its projects through the “BRICS-plus” concept that was adopted during last year’s summit in Xiamen.

“It is aimed at establishing ‘outer circles’ of the friends to ‘the Five,’ creation of a dialogue venue for regional integration unions of states with emerging and developing economies from different parts of the world,” Antonov said.

READ MORE: ‘US doesn’t want strong & independent Brazil backing Latin America’ – Brazil’s Lula da Silva

On Monday, India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi arrives in Russia’s Black Sea resort of Sochi for an “agenda-less” meeting with President Vladimir Putin, where the leaders of two BRICS nations are set to “build up their relationship” and “discuss issues important to their own countries.”

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China’s lunar communication satellite blasts towards moon (VIDEO)

By ethan / May 21, 2018

China has successfully launched a relay satellite designed to play a crucial role in the Chang’e-4 lunar exploration project by establishing a communication link between Earth and the rover on the far side of the moon.

The lift-off of the Long March 4C rocket with the Queqiao satellite, accompanied by two microsatellites on board, took place from Xichang Satellite Launch Center at 5:28am local time on Monday morning. After separating from the rocket, around 25 minutes after the launch, the satellite entered an Earth-moon transfer orbit.

READ MORE: China boosts its lunar mission with satellite to talk to dark side of the Moon

Shortly after the separation, the 937-pound (425kg) spacecraft designed by the China Academy of Space Technology (CAST) spread its two solar panels and unfolded the 13.8-feet (4.2-meter) communication antenna to begin an eight-to-nine day journey to the far side of the moon. The satellite will eventually reach the halo orbit around the second Lagrangian (L2) point of the Earth-moon system, located some 280,000 miles (450,000km) from Earth.

From there, the Queqiao satellite (which means “magpie bridge” in Chinese) will be able to relay signals back to Earth from Chang’e 4 Moon Lander set to be launched before the end of the year.

“The launch is a key step for China to realize its goal of being the first country to send a probe to soft-land on and rove the far side of the Moon,” said Zhang Lihua, manager of the relay satellite project, Xinhua reported.

Monday’s launch has become the 275th mission of Chinese Long March rocket series. If Chang’e-4 missions goes to plan, China will become the first nation to explore the far side of the moon, ahead of the nation’s ultimate goal of putting people on the lunar surface before the end of the 2030s.

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‘Americans seen as invaders’: Palestinian officials equate US embassy move to Israeli occupation

By ethan / May 21, 2018

Palestinian politicians have condemned the US for moving its embassy to Jerusalem, likening the move to Israel’s seizure of Palestinian land.

Feisal Abu Shahlaa, a member of the Fatah party, said the US is now viewed as “invaders” of Palestinian territories following President Donald Trump’s decision to move the country’s diplomatic headquarters from Tel Aviv. The US now officially recognizes the city as Israel’s capital. “What we see is a seizure of our lands, something only Israelis did before,” Abu Shahlaa said in an interview with Sputnik.

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© Mohamad Torokman

Ruhi al Fattuh, a member of Fatah’s Central Committee echoed his party colleague’s remarks. “The land the US embassy stands on was illegally occupied. The Americans continue the Israeli practice of building settlements in Palestine,” Fattuh said.

Fattuh said Palestinians also see the relocation as a breach of international law citing UN Security Council Resolution 478 which ruled out recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital in 1980.

Fattuh was adamant that Palestinians will appeal to the UN to defend their rights, saying: “Americans will not succeed in changing Jerusalem’s historical status as the capital of an independent Palestinian state.”

Shahlaa went on to blame the US for the 60 Palestinians who were killed by Israeli forces in Gaza while protesting the embassy’s opening Monday. An eight-month-old baby thought to have inhaled Israeli tear gas was among the dead.

Calling on other Arab other Muslim-majority countries to close their embassies in protest, Shahlaa insisted that “aggressive actions” are now “forcing Palestinians to abandon all attempts to reach a peaceful resolution [of the conflict] and move on and resist.”

During demonstrations on the day of the US Embassy’s inauguration in Jerusalem, at least 60 Palestinian protesters, including children, were killed by Israeli bullets and tear gas in what the Palestinian government describes as a “terrible massacre.” The violence was condemned by rights groups and most UN Security Council members, with even the US’ closest allies refusing to stand by Washington’s support for Tel Aviv.

Israel however blames Hamas for instigating the violence, saying the group organised attacks on the border fence with Gaza which justified Israel’s use of deadly force. Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu called the Gaza border clashes “a warlike act,” rather than “civilian” protests. “Israel will continue to defend itself as necessary and will not allow anyone who calls for its destruction to break into our borders and threaten our communities,” Netanyahu said, deflecting widespread criticism.

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Bypassing US sanctions, countering China: Why Modi’s ‘no agenda’ meeting with Putin is anything but

By ethan / May 20, 2018

Narendra Modi arrives in Sochi for an “agenda-less” meeting with Vladimir Putin, but there won’t be time for chit-chat: the two must save key arms deals left up in the air by US sanctions, and find common ground on China.

“This is a very different kind of meeting. Normally, we have a system of annual bilateral summits, that are very structured, where you negotiate and you come out with documents, contracts and joint statements,” said Pankaj Saran, India’s ambassador in Moscow, ahead of his prime minister’s arrival in the Black Sea resort on Monday afternoon.

Instead, says Saran, the one-day visit, planned in short order after Putin won March’s election for his fourth term, and conducted without honor guards, official dinners and other accoutrements, will be a chance for the two leaders to develop “personal chemistry, build up their relationship” and “discuss issues important to their own countries.”

‘US won’t dictate which weapons we can buy’

The issue that is equally important to both is the fate of Russia’s agreed weapons exports to India, estimated at $ 12 billion. Ever since India declared independence, Moscow has sold far more arms to New Delhi than any other state.

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Russian S-400 air defense systems. © Alexey Malgavko

But a major obstacle has risen in the shape of CAATSA, the anti-Russia, Iran and North Korea legislation passed by Congress last year. It not only penalizes Moscow’s own strategic industries, but is liable to sanction third-country companies working with Russian entities on the list, including Russia’s official arms trader Rosoboronexport.

On Saturday, the US official Tina Kaidanow, principal deputy assistant secretary of state for political-military affairs, who is herself traveling to India for talks later this month, warned New Delhi “to evaluate any potential large defense purchase from Russia seriously” saying it must not “enable” Russia’s “malign behavior.”

So far, India has held steady in the face of this pressure, which Moscow views as an underhanded attempt to muscle into the largest arms import market in the world.

“We are not going to allow our defense requirement to be dictated by any other country. We have conveyed this to the Capitol Hill. Russia has been a reliable and trusted partner,” said a senior Indian official, quoted in multiple local media outlets last week.

In a tweet sent out prior to his visit, Modi also confirmed that he would seek to “strengthen the special and privileged strategic partnership between India and Russia.”

But it would be complacent to exclusively blame Washington for a slide in that partnership, which has seen Russia’s share of arms imports fall from 79 percent between 2008-2012 to 62 in 2013-2017, according to think-tank SIPRI.

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FILE PHOTO © Evgeny Biyatov

Even before Modi was elected in 2014, India began a geopolitical shift closer to Washington, while its arms industry has made a deliberate move to lessen its reliance on Russian companies, which Indian officials say experience difficulties with deadlines, cost overruns, and spare parts supplies.

While the undisputed Russian hits such as the S-400 Triumf anti-aircraft systems are still in demand – India is intent on buying five at a cost approaching $ 6 billion – more speculative projects have run into trouble.

The nadir has been India’s public decision just last month to exit the Sukhoi/HAL Fifth Generation Fighter Aircraft (FGFA) project, mooted for over a decade. New Delhi is apparently dissatisfied with both the timelines and the characteristics of what would have been a groundbreaking jointly-produced jet, and a new model for Russia’s post-Soviet aerospace industry.

Likely, Modi and Putin will eventually feel comfortable enough to broach the topic during their face-to-face, expected to last between four and six hours.

“My own experience has been that it takes time for us to take a final decision, when it comes to frontline fighter or attack aircraft,” prominent Indian diplomat-turned-expert Gopalaswami Parthasarathy told RT. “I am sure that we can overcome any mutual doubts we may have on the Russian FGFA, once we can better match what we need with what is available. Finally, the entire issue of spares and transfer of technology remains crucial for defense supplies.”

India to woo Russia away from China?

On nuclear, the relationship is similarly fruitful, if not so politicized. Indian representatives announced that the two leaders would discuss further cooperation in this area, with Russia completing reactors 3 and 4 of Kudankulam, India’s largest nuclear power station being constructed in the south of the country. Moscow will vie to complete reactors 5 and 6 by the start of the next decade, but nothing has been finalized, and the success of the project could determine the path of the country’s energy industry – a relevant concern for a rapidly growing economy, and a population that is expected to overtake China’s within five years.

Perhaps even more intriguing is the prospect of trilateral nuclear development with Bangladesh, to be piloted at the $ 13-billion Rooppur Nuclear Power Plant, where Russian engineers will supply the tech, and the Indian side some of the financing, management and influence.

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Prime Minister of India Narendra Modi arrives in St. Petersburg to participate in the XXI St. Petersburg International Economic Forum. © TASS Photo

By Modi’s informal one-to-one summits, which he has made his preferred form of international diplomacy, aren’t about the nitty gritty of construction deals, but rather big ideas – of which India’s place in the world remains central to the country’s identity. And China remains the measuring stick.

“India sees China as a rival in a competition for regional leadership,” Alexey Kuprianov, a senior research fellow at Institute of World Economy and International Relations, told RT.

Between the two countries there are plenty of indirect tensions. Beijing’s “One Belt One Road Project” – a reimagining of the silk road backed up by massive infrastructure and industrial investment – is not only a bid for Asian supremacy and a metaphorical encroachment into its backyard, but actually goes through a disputed territory between India and arch-nemesis Pakistan, which has enjoyed closer ties with China in the past few years.

There is also a direct flashpoint – Doklam is a remote Tibetan area through which the undefined Sino-Indian border passes, but it captured headlines in both countries for over two months last summer, after a stand-off and series of clashes between border guards on both sides.

New Delhi is alarmed that Russia, the other great power in the immediate vicinity is drifting noticeably closer to China, with whom it has a tighter fit, not just economically but geopolitically too, with both countries seeing themselves as a counterweight to US hegemony.

Modi’s task will be to reassure Putin that India will not become a prong of a Western-directed alliance (talk of a potential regional partnership between United States, Japan, Australia and India was restarted last year) and also to show that its economic opportunities are as attractive as those offered by China. Perhaps sweetening the deal by offering Moscow a large new showpiece project, like the Russian-backed pipeline from Iran to India that was announced at the end of last year.

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US & China put trade war ‘on hold,’ agree more talks

By ethan / May 20, 2018

The US-China trade war is “on hold” after the world’s two largest economies agreed to stop threatening new tariffs ahead of further negotiations on a wider trade deal.

“We are putting the trade war on hold. Right now, we have agreed to put the tariffs on hold while we try to execute the framework,” US Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin told ‘Fox News Sunday.’

China and the US had threatened tariffs that would cost each of them billions of dollars, sparking fears of a full-scale trade war. On Saturday, China agreed to take measures to boost imports from the US to reduce its trade deficit. In earlier talks, Washington demanded that China reduce its trade surplus by $ 200 billion. No further details were given following the latest round of negotiations.

According to a joint statement, both sides agreed on meaningful increases in US agriculture and energy exports with the aim of helping to close the $ 335 billion annual US trade deficit with China.

Mnuchin and Trump’s top economic adviser, Larry Kudlow, said the agreement reached by Chinese and American negotiators on Saturday set up a framework for addressing trade imbalances in the future.

Kudlow told ‘Face the Nation’ on CBS that it was too soon to confirm the $ 200 billion figure. “The details will be down the road. These things are not so precise,” he said.

The National Economic Council Director added that no trade deal had been reached but communications were open. “We want China to open up markets, lower tariffs, lower non-tariff barriers, give us a chance…Now are we going to get everything? I don’t know, but I will say this – we’re making terrific progress,” he said.

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On the run: China boosts its lunar mission with satellite to talk to dark side of the Moon

By ethan / May 20, 2018

China is launching a new satellite on Sunday as part of its ambitious Chang’e-4 mission to make the first-ever landing on the ‘dark side’ of the moon.

The Queqiao relay satellite will be sent to Lagrange L2 Point, where it can maintain communication with both the far side of the moon and Earth. This is vital for phase two of the mission, later this year, when a lander and rover will be sent where no other has gone before – the side of the moon furthest away from Earth.

READ MORE: High ambitions: China launches first commercial space rocket

The moon is tidally locked to Earth, meaning that we never get to see the other side of it. This makes direct communication impossible but China is hoping to resolve this by using the relay satellite.

Queqiao, developed by the China Academy of Space Technology (CAST), will go into orbit at a gravitationally stable spot between 65,000km and 80,000km beyond the moon, allowing it to communicate simultaneously with points on both the moon and Earth.

The 425kg spacecraft is being sent into position around six months before the landing mission in order to test and verify is functions. It will also carry a Dutch astronomy experiment – the Netherlands-China Low-Frequency Explorer, which will search for radio signals from the universe’s very early days.

The Queqiao relay satellite is scheduled to lift off from the Xichang Satellite Launch Center at 9pm GMT(5am on May 21 local time) on top of a Long March 4C rocket. It has a three-day launch window.

The lander and rover for the Chang’e-4 mission were originally manufactured at the same time as the Chang’e-3 spacecraft, which landed on the moon in late 2013, in order to provide a backup mission in case of launch failure or other issues.

Chang’e-4 will be China’s fifth mission. If all goes to plan, the nation aims to put people on the lunar surface before the end of the 2030s, Chinese officials have said.

READ MORE: Moon ‘vanishes’ rapidly behind Earth in stunning video by Russian ISS cosmonaut

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Muslim man lynched to death in central India for ‘slaughtering cow’

By ethan / May 20, 2018

A Muslim man has been beaten to death by an angry mob of villagers in India for allegedly killing a bovine – an act considered a crime and punishable by imprisonment under local laws.

The gruesome incident took place in Amgara village in the “Heart of India” – central Madhya Pradesh state – on Thursday night, local media report. The villagers allegedly noticed two men, later identified in reports as Riyaz Khan and Shakeel Maqbool, with the animal near a quarry.

Conflicting reports say it was either a cow or a bull, but the killing of either is considered a criminal offence under state laws. Madhya Pradesh prohibits the slaughter of cows, calves, bulls, bullocks and buffalo calves. However, the locals apparently decided to take the matters into their own hands.

“The villagers saw them [Khan and Maqbool] slaughtering bulls. They got angry and attacked them,” local police official Rajendra Pathak said, as cited by the Indian Express. 

Both men were brutally lynched by the villagers, with 45-year-old Riyaz later succumbing to his injuries. Maqbool was taken to hospital in a critical condition. Police who arrived at the scene found slaughtered cattle and the meat of two other animals packed in bags, senior police officer Rajesh Hingankar said, as cited by NDTV. 

At least four men were arrested following the lynching. In a separate case, the authorities also filed a complaint against Khan and Maqbool, accusing them of cattle slaughter, which is a punishable offence in a number of Indian states, including Madhya Pradesh. The state has recently increased the jail term for cow slaughter to seven years and a fine of Rs. 5,000 ($ 73). 

“On the basis of the FIR [first information report] lodged by the villager, Shakeel [Maqbool] will be arrested after he is discharged from the hospital,” Hingankar added. Maqbool has reportedly denied all charges against him.

India has recently seen a rise in so-called ‘cow vigilantes,’ who attack farmers and violently prevent cattle from being slaughtered. In summer 2017, a Muslim teen was allegedly stabbed to death for carrying beef. In a separate incident, a farmer who was transporting cows was killed on a road trip. 

In 2017, Human Rights Watch (HRW) called upon the Indian authorities to prosecute ‘cow vigilantes,’ arguing that Muslims are often targets of attacks, along with members of India’s lowest caste. 

Cows are considered sacred by Hindus, who make up almost 80 percent of India’s population. Muslims account for 14 percent of the population, according to 2011 census data. 

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ISIS claims responsibility for attack on Orthodox church in Chechnya

By ethan / May 20, 2018

Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIS/ISIL) terrorist group has claimed responsibility for the Saturday attack on an Orthodox church in Russia’s Chechen Republic, which left a worshiper and two police officers dead.

The terrorist group took the credit for the attack, issuing a statement through its online mouthpieces, the SITE Intelligence Group reported Sunday. Four terrorists, armed with blades, incendiary devices and guns, stormed the Church of Michael the Archangel in the Chechen capital, Grozny.

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The attack was thwarted by the security forces which killed all the four attackers during a brief shootout. A worshipper and two police officers were killed during the attack. Both officers were deployed to Chechnya from the Saratov region.

Three of the attackers were identified as residents of the Chechen Republic, while the leader of the terrorist group was from the neighboring Republic of Ingushetia, according to the Chechen leader, Ramzan Kadyrov.

The attackers were aged between 18 and 19 years. The terrorists “received the order [to carry out the attack] from one of the Western countries,” Kadyrov said, citing “intelligence data.”

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EU companies may withdraw from Iran, words of support for nuclear deal not enough – FM Zarif

By ethan / May 20, 2018

Iranian FM Javad Zarif told the EU energy chief that the bloc must take “practical steps” to strengthen economic ties with Tehran after Washington’s withdrawal from the nuclear deal, saying that “political support” was not enough.

“With the withdrawal of America, [Iran’s] public expectations of the European Union have increased in order to maintain the deal’s gains, and in the current context, the European political support for the accord is not sufficient,” Zarif said as he met Miguel Arias Canete, the EU’s energy commissioner, in Tehran on Sunday, the IRNA news agency reports.

READ MORE: ‘US not economic gendarme of planet’: France suggests EU may compensate firms hit by US sanctions

To provide real support to Tehran, European countries should ramp up economic co-operation and increase investment in the country, Zarif said. While EU member states have expressed their continued commitment to the 2015 nuclear deal, known officially as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), he suggested that ongoing developments signal otherwise.

“The announcement of the possible withdrawal by major European companies from their co-operation with Iran is not consistent with the European Union’s commitment to implementing [the nuclear deal],” Iran’s top diplomat said.

Washington’s move to withdraw from the JCPOA “has created problems for Europe,” the EU energy commissioner told his host. Canete said the bloc was committed to implementing and maintaining the deal, as well as continuing to cooperate with Iran.

Donald Trump withdrew the US from the landmark JCPOA agreement on May 8, despite repeated warnings from Tehran, Moscow and Europe against doing so. Trump explained his decision to leave the deal by reference to “flaws” in the document, which should be “fixed.” The announcement was followed by a batch of sanctions against Iranian individuals and entities, issued by the US Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control, along with threats to impose more.

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