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EU slaps tariffs on US as trade war erupts
22 June 2018, 12:39 PM

The European Union slapped revenge tariffs on iconic US products including bourbon, jeans and motorcycles on Friday in its opening salvo in a trade war with President Donald Trump.

The tariffs, which took effect at midnight (2200 GMT Thursday) according to the EU’s official journal, will further fuel jitters on world stock markets that are already alarmed by trade tensions between the United States and China.

Customs agents across Europe’s colossal market of 500 million people will now impose the duty, hiking prices on US-made products in supermarkets and across factory floors.

“These measures are the logical consequence of the US decision,” French Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire told AFP.

“They reflect a Europe that is resolute and principled,” he said.

Brussels imposed the raft of duties on US products worth 2.8 billion euros ($3.3 billion) in a tit-for-tat response to Trump’s decision to slap stiff tariffs on European steel and aluminium exports.

Global markets on Friday took the development in stride, with stocks in Europe firm after weeks of instability on trade worries.

EU Trade Commissioner Cecilia Malmstrom said this week that the 28-nation bloc was “left with no other choice” but to impose tariffs of its own after the “unilateral and unjustified decision of the US.”

Together with US tariffs against Mexico and Canada, the trade battles have raised the spectre of a global trade war, spooking financial markets that fear major consequences to the global economy.

“We have a trade war — and it’s an escalating trade war,” SEB chief economist Robert Bergqvist told AFP in an interview.

Brussels first drew up the list in March when Trump initially floated the 25 percent tariffs on steel imports and 10 percent on aluminium, which also target Canada, Mexico and other close allies.

The list does not specifically name brands but European Commission chief Jean-Claude Juncker spelled out in March that the bloc would target “Harley-Davidson, bourbon and Levi’s jeans”.
Cranberries, cranberry juice, orange juice, sweetcorn and peanut butter are among the other food products targeted.

Juncker said on Thursday that the US decision to impose tariffs “goes against all logic and history”.

“Our response must be clear but measured. We will do what we have to do to rebalance and safeguard,” he said.

European consumers would be able to find “alternatives”, European Commission Vice President for trade Jyrki Katainen said.

“If we chose products like Harley Davidson, peanut butter and bourbon, it’s because there are alternatives on the market. We don’t want to do anything that would harm consumers,” he said on Thursday.

“What’s more, these products will have a strong symbolic political impact.”

International Monetary Fund (IMF) chief Christine Lagarde warned on Thursday that trade war, as well as Brexit, were the key risks to the eurozone economy.

While she didn’t see a serious “direct impact of tariff increases… it’s a trend that is worrying, the breach of confidence that undermines confidence,” she said on the sidelines of eurozone minister talks in Luxembourg.

Transatlantic ties are at their lowest level for many years due to rows over a host of issues including the Paris climate agreement and the Iran nuclear deal.

Relations plumbed new depths at the recent G7 summit when Trump abruptly rejected the joint statement and bitterly insulted his Canadian host, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.

Trump claimed America had been obliged to levy the metals tariffs as it has been exploited as the world’s “piggy bank”. He is also targeting EU auto imports with a US probe now underway.

Trump’s outbursts were the latest in which he has clashed with America’s closest allies, even as he has had warm words for autocrats like North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, with whom he had a historic meeting earlier this month, and Russia’s Vladimir Putin.

But US Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian affairs Wess Mitchell said on Thursday that Trump’s approach towards his allies was about “strategic renovation”.

“Strengthening the West means making hard decisions today when we initially disagree, rather than continuing to accept the appearance of transatlantic unity,” he told the Carnegie Europe think-tank in Brussels.

UN rights chief calls for probe of abuses by Venezuela forces
22 June 2018, 11:28 AM

The United Nations human rights chief called Friday for an international investigation of atrocities in Venezuela, blasting the government’s chronic refusal to probe security officers over the alleged killings of civilians.

“The failure to hold security forces accountable for such serious human rights violations suggests that the rule of law is virtually absent in Venezuela,” said Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, as his office launched a new report on reported abuses in the crisis-stricken country.

Zeid asked the UN Human Rights Council to set up its highest-level probe — a Commission of Inquiry — for Venezuela and suggested The Hague-based International Criminal Court may need to get involved.

UN investigators were denied access to Venezuela. Some of the findings were based on remote monitoring as well as interviews with victims, witnesses, civil society groups and others.

Other evidence includes material compiled by former attorney general Luisa Ortega Diaz, who was sacked by President Nicolas Maduro in August of last year and went into exile.

The rights office report focuses partly on alleged extra-judicial killings by officers involved in the Operations for the Liberation of the People, purportedly tasked with fighting crime.

It said those officers may have been responsible for more than 500 killings between July 2015 and March 2017, largely carried out in poor neighbourhoods.

The report also highlighted the “pervasive” impunity for Maduro and for officers blamed for killing at least 46 people during protests last year.

According to the UN, Ortega Diaz had issued dozens of warrants against officers linked to the deaths, but only one trial has started.

“This impunity must end,” Zeid said in a statement.

Under Maduro, Venezuela is going through the worst economic crisis in its history.

Hyperinflation has crippled the country, leading to shortages of food and medicine. Hundreds of thousands of people have fled Venezuela to escape the growing deprivation.

The UN also accused the government of failing to acknowledged the extent of the crisis.

“Families are having to search for food in rubbish bins,” Zeid said.

“When a box of hypertension pills costs more than the monthly minimum wage and baby milk formula more than two months’ salary, but protesting against such an impossible situation can land you in jail, the extreme injustice of it all is stark.”

Upon his re-election on May 20, Maduro promised to work for reconciliation and offered to free political opponents who have not committed serious crimes, in order to “overcome the wounds” of the protests against him, which have left some 200 dead since 2014.

China dog meat fest opens as S. Korea goes the other way
22 June 2018, 10:54 AM

As South Korea moves closer to banning dog meat, diners tuck into bowls of stewed canine in southern China, where activists are rethinking their tactics to counter a notorious festival that butchers thousands of dogs.

The annual Yulin dog meat celebration opened without a hitch on Thursday, a day after a South Korean court announced it had ruled that the slaughtering of dogs for meat was illegal.

Activists say the ruling could pave the way for the outlawing of dog meat consumption in South Korea, but there is less progress in China where advocates fear their tactics have been counterproductive.

Eating dog to mark the summer solstice is a tradition in China’s Guangxi region, where the festival has been held since 2009 to mark the occasion in the town of Yulin.

Despite rumours last year that Yulin authorities would ban dog meat sales altogether, many restaurants advertised the controversial offering this week with the veiled moniker of “fragrant meat”.

Carcasses were on display for purchase in the city’s open-air markets — though there were fewer of them than in previous years, locals said.

The Dongkou wet market downtown bustled with shoppers meandering past piles of dogs laid out atop butcher stalls for them to inspect. Others hung from hooks, their faces locked in a rigid grimace.

Market workers pulled in cartfuls of dead dogs while sweaty men blow-torched the fresher carcasses to remove any remaining fur. On the street, a man transported two live mutts in a cage on the back of his scooter.

As police patrolled outside the market premises, one woman bought a full dog for 662 yuan ($102), saying she would eat it with her family to celebrate the summer solstice.

“It’s very tasty,” another local surnamed Chen told AFP, insisting “they’re all strays — strays and pets are different”.

Chen did not consider it cruel to consume the meat during what the Chinese zodiac system deems the Year of the Dog, quipping: “don’t you eat chicken in the year of the rooster, and pork in the year of the pig?”

But vendors were more discreet than usual.

They cooked in narrow alleys or inside their restaurants instead of preparing dog dishes in front of patrons, ushering diners inside and not serving outdoors.

Thousands of dogs are butchered during the event, the animal protection organisation Humane Society International estimates — a fraction of the more than 10 million consumed each year in China.

Animal rights activists have typically attended the festival to purchase ill-fated dogs and save them from slaughter, said Qiao Wei, an activist from the Si Chuna Qiming Animal Protection Centre.

But now they feel that working to establish a general ban on the dog meat trade would be much more effective.

“We have no hope that we can bring change just by going to Yulin,” he said. Simply buying dogs “doesn’t help”.

International animal rights groups concur, saying that focusing so intensively on dog meat consumption in just one city at an annual event risks becoming counterproductive.

“It would be far better to have a holistic campaign that works collaboratively across the country, engaging the government and public to acknowledge animals as our friends, not food,” said Jill Robinson, founder of the Hong Kong-based Animals Asia Foundation.

Chinese leader Mao Zedong had banned dog ownership for being bourgeois, but the ranks of China’s rising middle-class are now full of proud and loving dog owners.

This year, the foundation set up an online portal where Chinese citizens can report restaurants that operate illegally.

Tipsters have already flagged some 1,300 restaurants in 153 cities, with over 200 of them shut down, forced to stop selling the meat, or issued warnings, said Robinson.

Before the festival, animal protection groups from around the world submitted a letter with 235,000 signatures to Beijing, calling for the event’s abolishment.

The tide appears to be turning against dog meat consumption elsewhere in Asia, and Chinese animal lovers like Zhang Huahua, a 62-year-old retired lecturer-turned-activist, sense change is in the air.

Zhang came to Yulin all the way from her home in the southern province of Guangdong to submit a letter with recommendations to the local government.

Her hope is to save dog lives by changing the system itself.

In South Korea, where one million dogs are believed to be eaten annually, a court ruled that meat consumption was not legitimate grounds for killing canines, after an animal rights group accused a dog farm operator of slaughtering dogs “without proper reasons” and violating building and hygiene regulations.

Last April, Taiwan banned the consumption, purchase and possession of both dog and cat meat, with offenders facing a fine of up to Tw$250,000 ($8,170).

But many in Yulin viewed the news with a shrug.

“They can do what they want,” said a resident surnamed Huang, who nonetheless wasn’t fond of the taste of dog himself.

Power to Caster Semenya for taking the fight to IAAF
22 June 2018, 8:42 AM

Generally, South Africa’s double-Olympic gold medalist Caster Semenya is a noticeably shy, reserved person. Had it not been for her vocation as a world-renowned athlete, I bet, too few people would know about her. In fact so reserved in many respects is Caster that away from the track and field little is known about her private life despite her celebrity status.

Many negative things have been said and written about her and sometimes the social media, in their unkind nature, has poked fun at her without any fear of reprisals. In spite of all the provocations – and aplenty they’ve been -one hardly ever hear a raised voice of SA’s golden girl of athletics. What a lady!

Very few irritations since she first won her title in 2009 have caused her to be utterly incensed as has been the case with the recent diabolical attack on her nature by the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF).

The IAAF, in a move many observers and analysts agree is targeting Semenya, has come up with ludicrous “eligibility regulations for female classification”. This means new rules for athletes with differences in sex development. Something, I opine, that is truly the consequence of both nature and creation in their rawest form.

In recent times, the IAAF has opened itself to scrutiny and criticism following some dubious decisions. An example was when the world athletics body came like a ton of bricks on individual athletes of the Russian origin on the basis of the so-called State-sponsored doping scandal. Now, it is all well and indeed important that the IAAF deal harshly with any case of doping in their midst. However, the harshest penalties, such as banning athletes from competitions, need to be credible. In other words, the IAAF has to produce a portfolio of evidence to back up their claims against targeted athletes.

Yet in the case of Russia, dozens of athletes remain in limbo because the IAAF’s task force has recently upheld the indefinite banning of the Russia Athletics Federation, thereby punishing basically the entire mass of individual sports men and women affiliated to the national body. In fact, so harsh is the attitude of the IAAF to the Russian athletes that whereas they deem them banned from competitions, the IAAF nevertheless doesn’t mind when the Russian athletes dump their country’s flag and compete as so-called neutrals.

Now, this seems quite the opposite of the dictates of fair-play and natural justice. But even more worrying, seems like the IAAF’s attitude and hardened position is based on factors outside of sports, such as a geo-politics. This, if one day is proven true, will be sad indeed. For, such is a recipe for the collapse of even great and once mighty organizations.

For South Africa, it is encouraging to note the determined support for Semenya from the government through the Department of Sport and Recreation. Athletes South Africa, too, has thrown its weight behind Semenya’s bold challenge to the IAAF. Praise goes also to the South African Sports Confederation and Olympic Committee (SASCOC) which through its wonderful president Gideon Sam has undertaken to be with Semenya as she takes the IAAF head-on at the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS).

Too often evil thrive when good people elect to keep quiet in the interest of peace. Yet peace itself without justice is tantamount to violence. The whole country, and indeed the world, need to rally behind Semenya, the athlete who hails from humble beginnings and had to pull herself up by her boot-straps to reach her heights. Now the IAAF wants to take away her boots. And then, typically, the IAAF will be the first to scream at the bootless Semenya: Pull yourself up by your boot-straps. It’s a strange we’re living in.

Messi’s Argentina staring at World Cup exit after Croatia humbling
22 June 2018, 8:29 AM

Lionel Messi’s Argentina were on the brink of a humiliating World Cup exit on Thursday after they were humbled 3-0 by Croatia on a dramatic day at the World Cup that saw the European side join France in the knockout rounds.

Argentina knew they had to chase a win in Nizhny Novgorod after their disappointing 1-1 opening draw against Iceland but instead collapsed in the second half to leave their campaign in tatters.

A horrendous mistake by goalkeeper Willy Caballero and two further goals from Luka Modric and Ivan Rakitic mean the two-time former champions have to rely on an unlikely sequence of results if they are to progress in Russia.

It was the heaviest defeat for the two-time world champions in the first round group stages of a World Cup tournament since they lost 6-1 to Czechoslovakia in 1958.

The result spelt another night of misery for Barcelona star Messi, who missed a penalty in Argentina’s opening match against Iceland.

In stark contrast, his eternal rival Cristiano Ronaldo, who last month won his fifth Champions League winner’s medal, has already scored four goals in Russia and looks a shoo-in to win his sixth world player of the year award.

Croatia sit at the top of Group D with six points. Iceland have one point, the same as Argentina, and Nigeria have no points, but both teams have a game in hand on the South Americans.

“I had to devise a plan for this match. If I had set things up differently, things might have turned out much better. I don’t think it’s realistic to put the burden on Caballero (for his mistake),” said Argentina coach Jorge Sampaoli.

“I think because of the reality of the Argentinian squad, it clouds Leo’s brilliance. Leo is limited because the team doesn’t gel ideally with him as it should. As coaches we need to realise these things and try to deal with them and I’m the one that needs to accept it.”

Yet Sampaoli’s remarks, implying that Messi’s team-mates were to blame, drew a blunt response from normally affable striker Sergio Aguero, hinting at tensions in the Argentine camp.

“Let him say what he wants,” Aguero said, when asked to comment on Sampaoli’s verdict.

It is the first time that Croatia have progressed past the World Cup group stages since their third-placed debut in 1998.

“From day one I’ve trusted my team. I didn’t believe we would be through after the second game, but I believed we would be through eventually,” said Croatia coach Zlatko Dalic.

“Argentina weren’t confused, we were excellent.”

But a fierce post-mortem was already under way in Argentina, where the press tore into Messi and his team.

“Catastrophe against Croatia, Argentina disappoints and is on the way out of the World Cup,” the Clarin newspaper wrote on its website.

France, who won the tournament on home in 1998, earlier joined Russia and Uruguay in the last 16 with a 1-0 win against Peru, who cannot now progress from the group stage after two defeats.

Paris Saint-German star Kylian Mbappe tapped into an empty net in the 34th minute in Yekaterinburg and the South Americans were unable to respond.

Mbappe is now the youngest French goalscorer at a World Cup, aged 19 years and 183 days, beating David Trezeguet’s record of 20 years and 246 days.

Denmark, also in France’s Group C, stayed on course for the knockout rounds after drawing 1-1 with Australia in the early game of the day in Samara.

Christian Eriksen’s half-volley was cancelled out by Mile Jedinak’s VAR-assisted penalty after Yussuf Poulsen’s handball, giving Denmark four points, while Australia are stuck on one point.

Australia coach Bert van Marwijk said the “last piece of the puzzle” — goals — was missing for his side who had several chances to win the game, leaving their survival in the balance.

“We had chances to win and we deserved to win, so I’m disappointed,” the Dutchman said.

Russia have defied pre-tournament predictions that they would struggle by qualifying for the knockout round for the first time since the Soviet era. They will be joined by Uruguay, condemning

Mohamed Salah’s Egypt and Saudi Arabia to an early exit from Group A.

Morocco will also be leaving Russia after the first round following their defeat by European champions Portugal, who are level with Spain on four points at the top of Group B.



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