New Zealand ramps up diplomatic presence in Pacific where China influence rising

WELLINGTON (REUTERS) – New Zealand will send 14 new diplomats to the Pacific region next year, Foreign Minister Winston Peters said on Tuesday (Dec 4), the latest move by Western governments to counter China’s growing influence in the strategic region.

The additional staff will be based in Samoa, Tonga, Fiji, Vanuatu, Papua New Guinea, Solomon Islands, Kiribati, and the US state of Hawaii, Mr Peters said in a statement.

The move comes amid growing Western concerns about China’s influence in the South Pacific through its Belt and Road initiative, which dominated a recent Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (Apec) summit hosted by Papua New Guinea.

“These new positions are a first step in demonstrating New Zealand is committed to the Pacific to help it be … safer and more prosperous and enhancing New Zealand’s voice in a region,” Peters said.

The jobs will be advertised by the end of this year and the new posts expected to be filled by the middle of 2019, Mr Peters’ office said.

New Zealand is also sending four additional diplomats to Japan, the United States, the European Union and China to coordinate policy on the Pacific region, Mr Peters said.

The United States, Australia, France and Britain are opening new embassies, adding more staff and engaging with leaders of island nations more often in a bid to counter China’s rising influence.

Competition between the United States and China over the Pacific was thrown into focus at Apec in November with the United States and its Western allies launching a coordinated response to China’s Belt and Road programme.

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Nissan directors meet to pick chairman to succeed Carlos Ghosn

TOKYO (BLOOMBERG) – Nissan Motor Co.’s independent board members meet on Tuesday (Dec 4) to select Carlos Ghosn’s successor as chairman.

Their choice to replace the ousted car titan, who sits in a Japanese jail, will indicate the direction the automaker’s alliance with Renault SA will take.

The most likely successors fall on each end of the spectrum: Chief Executive Officer Hiroto Saikawa, who has emerged as a driving force behind the investigation into Ghosn’s financial reporting, and Toshiyuki Shiga, a former Ghosn confidante, people familiar with the situation have said.

The independent directors have already said they will choose an existing board member as the next chairman. Nissan’s board is due to vote on their choice Dec 17.

At stake is the direction of the world’s biggest car alliance between Nissan, Renault and Mitsubishi Motors Corp, as differences surface among the companies that Ghosn’s leadership held together.

The embattled executive, who was arrested on Nov 19 in Tokyo on allegations by Nissan of under-reporting his income and misusing company money for personal use, will likely be re-arrested next week as prosecutors add a fresh claim, people familiar with the investigation said.

Saikawa’s ascendance to the position of chairman would solidify his power at Nissan, which wants to push for a more equitable partnership with Renault in their alliance after Ghosn’s ouster.

The balance of power at Nissan is now tilted towards Saikawa, who has turned from a former Ghosn protege into one of the most vocal critics of his alleged wrongdoing.

Shiga’s selection would likely result in more collective management of Nissan.

Renault is the largest shareholder of Nissan and has voting rights in the company. Nissan is the second-largest shareholder in the French company, but has no power to vote. That has created an imbalance which has worsened over the years with Nissan’s success in markets like China and the US, where the French carmaker is absent.

Nissan has rejected external chairman candidates suggested by Renault, said the people, who asked not to be identified discussing private matters.

A Nissan representative declined to comment on the directors’ meeting and the chairman candidates.

Ghosn was dismissed as chairman of Nissan on Nov 22 in a stunning downfall for the jet-setting executive. While Mitsubishi also ousted Ghosn, Renault refused to remove the 64-year-old as CEO, and instead named an interim leader.

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Cricketer’s brother ‘framed’ terror suspect

The brother of Australian cricket star Usman Khawaja has been arrested for allegedly framing another man over a fake terror plot.

Police in Australia have charged Arsalan Khawaja, 39, with forgery and an attempt to pervert justice.

In August, police charged a Sri Lankan student in Sydney over an alleged plan in a notebook about killing Australian politicians.

Mohamed Kamer Nizamdeen was detained for a month before being released.

The 25-year-old PhD student had claimed that that he was framed by a rival at his workplace, the University of New South Wales.

On Tuesday, police alleged Mr Nizamdeen had been “set up in a planned and calculated manner” by Mr Khawaja.

Mr Khawaja, who worked in the same department as Mr Nizamdeen, had been partly motivated by a “personal grievance” over a woman, police said.

Wrongful detainment

Mr Nizamdeen endured more than four weeks in solitary confinement after he was arrested on terrorism charges.

Police accused him of plotting the attacks in his notebook. An alleged hit list included the former Australian prime minister Malcolm Turnbull and landmarks such as the Sydney Opera House.

However he was released in October after police failed to connect his handwriting to the writing in the notebook.

Mr Nizamdeen, who has returned to Sri Lanka, has indicated he plans to seek compensation from authorities for his wrongful detention.

On Tuesday, New South Wales police expressed “regret” for Mr Nizamdeen’s experience.

“We feel very sorry for him and what has happened to him,” Assistant Commissioner Mick Willing said.

Mr Khawaja was arrested on Tuesday in suburban Sydney. Police had questioned him over the notebook last month.

His brother Usman Khawaja is one of Australia’s leading batsmen. He is set to play in the test series against India, beginning on Thursday.

Speaking hours after the arrest, he asked for his family’s privacy to be respected.

“It is a matter for police to deal with. Out of respect for the process it would be inappropriate for me to make any further comment,” he said.

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Trump tells Pakistan Taliban talks help fundamental to 'enduring' ties

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. President Donald Trump has asked for Pakistan’s help with faltering Afghan peace talks in a letter to new Prime Minister Imran Khan in which he made clear that Islamabad’s assistance was “fundamental” to the health of the two countries’ strained relationship, a senior Trump administration official said.

The U.S. president wants to end the 17-year-old conflict between Afghan security forces and the Taliban, who are fighting to drive out international forces and reestablish their version of strict Islamic law after their 2001 ouster.

The administration official, who did not want to be identified, said on Monday that Trump requested “Pakistan’s full support” for the U.S. effort to advance the Afghan peace process and for U.S. Special Representative Zalmay Khalilzad’s trip to the region.

Trump also said in the letter to Khan that he “recognizes that Pakistan has the ability to deny the Taliban sanctuary on its territory,” the official said.”The letter also makes clear that Pakistan’s assistance with the Afghan peace process is fundamental to building an enduring U.S.-Pakistan partnership,” the official said.

The Pakistani foreign ministry had a different take on the letter, saying Trump asked for its “support and facilitation” in negotiating an end to the war, and offered to renew bilateral ties.

Officially allies in fighting terrorism, Pakistan and the United States have a complicated relationship, bound by Washington’s dependence on Pakistan to supply its troops in Afghanistan, where the United States still has 14,000 troops, but plagued by accusations Islamabad is playing a double game.

U.S. officials have long been pushing Pakistan to lean on Taliban leaders, who Washington says are based inside Pakistan, to bring them to the negotiating table. Pakistani officials deny offering safe havens to the Afghan Taliban and say their influence on the group has waned over the years.

Trump appointed Afghan-born U.S. diplomat Khalilzad as special envoy tasked with pushing through peace talks.

Khalilzad said last month he hoped a deal would be reached by April 2019.

But Afghan Taliban militants said they had not accepted any deadline and said a three-day meeting in Qatar between their leaders and Khalilzad ended with no agreement.

Khalilzad on Sunday began an eight-country tour, including Pakistan, Russia and Qatar, to promote peace and convince the Taliban to join negotiations.

U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis said on Monday that the war in Afghanistan had gone on for long enough.

“We are looking for every responsible nation to support peace in the subcontinent and across this war in Afghanistan,” Mattis told reporters. “It is time for everyone to get on board.”

Trump has been clear that he wants to bring home U.S. troops who remain in Afghanistan as part of Resolute Support and a separate counter-terrorism mission aimed against militant groups such as al Qaeda and Islamic State.

“President Trump has also acknowledged that the war had cost both USA and Pakistan. He has emphasized that Pakistan and USA should explore opportunities to work together and renew partnership,” Pakistan’s foreign ministry said in a statement.

It added that Pakistan was committed to playing “a facilitation role in good faith”.

Last month, Trump said Pakistan doesn’t “do a damn thing” for the United States despite billions of dollars in U.S. aid.

He defended cutting aid to Islamabad and also suggested Pakistani authorities knew Osama bin Laden’s location prior to his killing by U.S. troops in a raid inside Pakistan in 2011.

Khan hit back by saying the United States should not blame Pakistan for its failings in Afghanistan.

Last week, Afghan President Ashraf Ghani said he had formed a 12-strong team to negotiate peace with the Taliban but implementation of any deal would take at least five years.

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Transport Secretary Chris Grayling 'should resign' over 'chaotic' railway timetables

Following a scathing report by the transport select committee into the widespread disruption to tens of thousands of passengers back in May, Chris Grayling has come under heavy fire from MPs and union bosses alike.

The report said Mr Grayling should have been more proactive to prevent the delays caused by the timetable changes, which saw Govia Thameslink Railway fail to run 12% of its planned service in the weeks following May 20.

Arriva Rail North did not run around 11% of its trains and there was also a knock-on impact on TransPennine Express.

The disruption was described as “inconvenient, costly and potentially dangerous”, with the chaos having hugely eroded the level of trust passengers had in the rail industry.

Labour MP Lilian Greenwood, who chairs the committee, added: “It is extraordinary, and totally unacceptable, that no-one took charge of the situation and acted to avert the May timetabling crisis.

“Instead of experiencing the benefits of much-needed investment in our railways, around one in five passengers experienced intensely inconvenient and costly disruption to their daily lives.

“There was extraordinary complacency about protecting the interests of passengers, who were very badly let down. The complex system by which we operate our rail services failed to cope with the scale of change planned for May.”

Mr Grayling has announced a year-long independent review into the state of the railways, but Ms Greenwood said passengers should not be made to wait until 2020 for any reforms to be implemented.

Before then, they will have to stomach an average 3.1% hike to rail fares, which was announced last week and will come into force in the new year.

The Department for Transport has said it is committed to deliver “significant change” to the rail industry, with its year-long review aiming to “put passengers first”.

But Mick Whelan, general secretary of train drivers’ union Aslef, said any goodwill that could be afforded to Mr Grayling had been completely used up.

“The transport secretary, if he had any sense of embarrassment or responsibility, would do the decent thing and resign after this damning report,” he said.

“He won’t, of course. Everything is always someone else’s fault, as far as he’s concerned.”

It has been a rough year for Mr Grayling, who in August was accused of “gross incompetence” after telling unions he wanted to change how fare rises are determined and how employee wages are decided.

The following month, he admitted the British rail network was “bursting at the seams” – but insisted re-nationalisation was not the answer.

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Murder accused was 'howling like a dog', court told

Residents of an apartment complex claimed a murder accused was “howling like a dog” as well as laughing as the body of a strangled father of one was thrown into a river.

The claim came at the opening of a Central Criminal Court trial in Cork, where Romanian national Ciprian Grozavu (44) denies the murder of Jonathan ‘Dukie’ Duke (27).

Mr Grozavu denies the murder of Mr Duke at Bridge House, Sean Hales Place, Bandon, Co Cork, on November 13 2011. The Romanian, whose nickname is ‘Chippy’, had been living at Bridge House in the west Cork town, which overlooks the River Bandon, in November 2011.

Tim O’Leary SC, for the State, outlined the prosecution case to Ms Justice Tara Burns and the jury of eight men and three women. He warned the jury aspects of the case would be “gruesome”.

Mr O’Leary said two men living in Apartment No 2 at Bridge House, Aaron Nolan and Shane O’Driscoll, heard loud noises coming from Apartment No 3 which was occupied by Mr Grozavu.

“They heard a commotion -loud noises coming from No 3. It got to the stage where they (the residents of No 2) came out to see what was happening on the landing.”

Mr O’Leary said it is the State’s case that the body of Mr Duke had been dragged down the stairs, out the front door and then thrown into the river.

Evidence from Assistant State Pathologist Dr Margaret Bolster will indicate Mr Duke died from strangulation – and he was effectively dead when his body entered the water.

Gardaí found the body of Mr Duke underneath Bandon Bridge, a short distance downstream from Bridge House in the River Bandon.

“They (the residents of No 2) were effectively listening to what went on. They heard what was happening… a bumping sound.

“They heard something that could have been something being brought downstairs. (You may) infer it was the body being dragged down stairs to the front of the house,” Mr O’Leary said.

It is the State case that the defendant was at the front of the house accompanied by his on-off girlfriend, Catherine O’Connor. Mr O’Leary told the jury O’Connor has been convicted of Mr Duke’s murder.

Mr Nolan told the trial he knew something was wrong.

“We were looking out the window – Chippy and Catherine. He had the top part and she had the legs. They literally threw him over the railings. When they came back in (to the apartment complex) they were shouting and cheering like an animal.”

Mr O’Driscoll said he was sure about what he saw.

“I saw both Catherine and Chippy lift that body over the railing – 100pc it was Jonathan Duke. I knew the runners on his feet. What he was wearing. They lifted the body and threw it in over that (railing). I (then) heard screaming and roaring… howling like a dog. That is exactly what he was doing.”

Gardaí arrived and found blood marks in the stairwell.

The trial continues.

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21st woman admits murdering boyfriend by smothering him with her stomach fat

A 21-stone woman murdered her boyfriend by smothering him with her stomach during a row, a court heard.

Windi Thomas pleaded guilty to the third-degree murder of Keeno Butler, who died from suffocation.

Thomas, 44, also hit Mr Butler with a table leg during the fight, a court in Pennsylvania was told.

She then lay on top of her boyfriend, who weighed around nine stone, and used her stomach to prevent him from breathing, Jet 24 reports.

Thomas entered her plea in Erie County court on Monday, agreeing to a recommended sentence of between 18 and 36 years, depending on behaviour.

Her defence lawyer claims she had been drinking and then passed out on top of 44-year-old Mr Butler, accidentally killing him.

Lawyer Mark Del Duca added that it was not her intention to kill her partner.

He added: “The actual cause of death is she collapsed on him and he basically died of suffocation."

She claimed to have woken later and realised what she has done and called police herself.

Prosecutors say she had also stabbed him in the hand and head and beat him severely in the head with the table leg.

Thomas will be sentenced on December 21.

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South Korean President Moon says visit from North Korea's Kim 'a possibility'

WELLINGTON (REUTERS) – South Korean President Moon Jae-in said on Tuesday (Dec 4) a visit to Seoul by North Korean leader Kim Jong Un was “a possibility” and that such a trip would help to improve Pyongyang’s relationship with the United States.

Mr Moon made the comment when asked by reporters during a state visit to New Zealand about the likely timing of a possible trip to Seoul by Mr Kim, who held summits with Mr Moon and US President Donald Trump this year.

“This will be the first time that a North Korean leader will visit South Korea so, although there is no time frame set for that, still that’s very meaningful,” Mr Moon said.

He said such a visit would “accelerate the denuclearisation in the Korean peninsula” and result in a “greater stride in relations improvement” between the North and the United States.

South Korea has been seeking to balance progressing its relationship with the North while also keeping Washington onside.

Mr Trump and Mr Moon announced after their landmark summit in Singapore in June that they had agreed to work towards the denuclearisation of the Korean peninsula, although the two sides have since made little progress agreeing on a timeline or other concrete steps.

North Korea has been angered by Washington’s refusal to ease sanctions and has warned it could resume development of its nuclear programme.

US Vice-President Mike Pence said last month Mr Trump would push for a concrete plan outlining Pyongyang’s moves to end its nuclear and missile programmes.

Mr Trump signalled on Saturday he was likely to meet Mr Kim again in January or February.

Mr Moon spoke shortly after a meeting with New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern where they discussed how to secure a denuclearised Korean peninsula.

“New Zealand’s stance on nuclear non-proliferation is clear and it is our hope that 2019 will see further progress towards achieving denuclearisation of North Korea in a complete, verifiable and irreversible manner and an enduring peace on the Korean peninsula,” Ms Ardern said in an e-mailed statement.

New Zealand has been working with the United States to help small Pacific nations audit and strengthen their shipping registers to avoid vessels with ties to North Korea using their flags to skirt sanctions.

Multiple ships linked to prohibited North Korean activities were identified after a training workshop with 14 Pacific nations in July, a senior US State Department official told Reuters, without identifying how many ships or the countries involved.

Reuters reported in 2017 that Fiji had identified more than 20 vessels with ties to North Korea using its flag illegally.

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CIA head ‘to brief Congress on Khashoggi’

The head of the CIA will now brief Congress on Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi’s murder, US media say.

Gina Haspel is reportedly talk to Senate leaders leaders on Tuesday.

She was absent from last week’s briefing by the secretaries of state and defence, angering some in Congress.

Khashoggi was killed in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul in October. US media have reported that the CIA has concluded Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman “probably ordered” the killing.

The Saudis have charged 11 people but deny that the crown prince was involved.

US media reports say the CIA has evidence he exchanged messages with Saud al-Qahtani, who allegedly oversaw the murder.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Defence Secretary James Mattis had told senators last week there was no direct evidence of the crown prince’s involvement.

President Donald Trump has said the CIA findings on the crown prince were not conclusive. On 20 November he said: “It could very well be that the crown prince had knowledge of this tragic event – maybe he did and maybe he didn’t.”

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Gina Haspel is also reportedly angry about the leak of the CIA findings to the media.

The CIA has not commented on the reports of Tuesday’s briefing.

Who was Jamal Khashoggi?

As a prominent journalist, he covered major stories including the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan and the rise of Osama Bin Laden for various Saudi news organisations.

For decades he was close to the Saudi royal family and also served as an adviser to the government.

But he fell out of favour and went into self-imposed exile in the US last year. From there, he wrote a monthly column in the Washington Post in which he criticised the policies of Mohammed bin Salman.

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Tesla changes plans to start Model Y production: Business Insider

(Reuters) – Tesla Inc had plans to build its pilot small electric SUV Model Y at Gigafactory 1 by June 1, 2020, the Business Insider reported on Monday, citing leaked internal documents, but said the company changed its plans later.

The electric carmaker planned a production ramp of 7,000 Model SUVs a week at the plant in Nevada by December 2020, and 5,000 Model Ys a week at its China Gigafactory by February 2021, the website said here, citing documents sent to staff before Tesla’s earnings call in October.

However, “the timelines and information shared here are outdated,” the Business Insider quoted a Tesla representative as saying.

Tesla did not immediately respond to a Reuters request for comment.

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