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TUESDAY 23 MAY 2017,



Philippine President Duterte

courts Russia in blow to US


Philippine Presi-

dent Rodrigo Duterte flew to

Russia on Monday to meet his

hero, seek arms and steer his na-

tion’s foreign policy further away

from longtime ally the United


The five-day trip will cement

a dramatic improvement in rela-

tions with Russia since Duterte

came to power last year and

began unraveling his country’s

decades-long alliances with the

United States, which he accuses

of hypocrisy and bullying.

“Russia must cease to be at

the margins of Philippine di-

plomacy. Overdependence on

traditional partners has limited

our room to maneuver in a very

dynamic international arena,”

Duterte said before leaving.

“This is a strategic oversight

that has led to many missed op-

portunities for our country. I am

determined to correct this.”

The trip will also be personal

for Duterte, who has described

Russian President Vladimir Pu-

tin as his “favorite hero” and pro-

claimed a bond because of mu-

tual passions such as guns and

hunting. The pair are due to meet

on Thursday.

Since assuming the presiden-

cy Duterte has sought to build

strong alliances with China and

Russia while moving away from

the United States, the Philip-

pines’ former colonial ruler and

most important military ally.

He has scaled down the num-

ber and scope of annual military

exercises with the United States,

barred Filipino forces from joint

patrols in the disputed South

China Sea and called for the

withdrawal of US troops from

the Philippines.

US military ties have been

loosened even though China

is expanding its presence into

Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte delivers a speech during the 33rd National Convention of the Philip-

pine Coast Guard Auxiliary (PCGA) in Davao City on the southern island of Mindanao in this May 19, 2017 file



Philippine-claimed waters in the

South China Sea.

Duterte said last week that

Chinese President Xi Jinping had

threatened to go to war with the

Philippines over the territorial


But Duterte, a self-described

socialist, has been determined to

reduce the Philippines’ reliance

on the United States and build

much closer ties with China and


“My visit underscores the in-

dependence of the Philippines’

foreign policy and the firm re-

solve to broaden the horizons of

friendship and cooperation with

other nations,” he said on Mon-


China and Russia have sup-

ported or at least not criticized

Duterte’s controversial war on

drugs, which has left thousands

of people dead and led to warn-

ings by rights groups that he may

be orchestrating a crime against


Duterte has railed against the

United States, particularly when

Barack Obama was president, for

criticizing the drug war.

On a state visit to China last

year he announced the Philip-

pines’ “separation” from the

United States.

“I’ve realigned myself in your

ideological flow and maybe I will

also go to Russia to talk to Putin

and tell him that there are three

of us against the world — China,

Philippines and Russia. It’s the

only way,” he said at that time.

Duterte and Putin first met

on the sidelines of an Asia-Pacific

summit in Peru last November.

Since then, two Russian Navy flo-

tillas have visited Manila.

“The Russians are with me, I

shall not be afraid,” Duterte said

while touring the Russian Navy’s

guided missile cruiser Varyag

during a port visit to Manila last



Manila, Beijing play down

alleged China war threats


The Philippines and

China played down on Monday a

warning by President Rodrigo

Duterte that China would go to

war if the Philippines drilled for

oil in the disputed South China


The outspoken Philippine

president has been facing criti-

cism at home for being what

some people see as too soft on

China over a long-running terri-

torial dispute.

Duterte met China’s Presi-

dent Xi Jinping for talks in Bei-

jing last week and later said Xi

had warned him there would be

war if the Philippines tried to ex-

plore for oil in a disputed stretch

of sea.

Foreign Secretary Alan Pe-

ter Cayetano said their meeting

was frank and friendly, and the

discussion was largely about pre-

venting conflict, not threatening


“The conversation was very

frank. There was mutual respect,

there was mutual trust,” Cayeta-

no said.

“The context was not threat-

ening each other, that we will go

to war. The context is how do we

stabilize the region and how do

we prevent conflict.”

He added: “I will not con-

tradict the president’s words. I

am just telling you ... my inter-

pretation: there was no bullying

or pushing around, it was not a


Speaking in Beijing, Chinese

Foreign Ministry spokeswoman

Hua Chunying also sought to

make light of Duterte’s com-

ments, noting he and Xi had

agreed to “strengthen commu-

nication” on important bilateral


China was willing to work

with the Philippines to handle

disputes peacefully, she told re-


Duterte made no mention

of the issue during an unusually

news briefing on Monday before

he left for Russia.

Duterte’s critics have made

much of his refusal to push Chi-

na to comply with a ruling last

year by the Permanent Court

of Arbitration in The Hague, at

the end of a case brought by the

Philippines against China, which

was largely in favor of the Phil-

ippines. China has never recog-

nized the case.

The court said the Philip-

pines had a sovereign right to ac-

cess offshore oil and gas fields in

its Exclusive Economic Zone.

Duterte’s rivals have likened

his refusal to insist that China

abide by the ruling as akin to sur-

rendering sovereignty.

Senate minority leader, Frank

Drilon, said the government

“should not allow our country to

be bullied and threatened,” while

former foreign minister Albert

del Rosario said Manila should

do joint maritime patrols with

traditional ally the United States,

an idea he said Duterte had jetti-

soned as part of his “full embrace

of China.”

Duterte chafes at what he

considers Philippine subservi-

ence to the United States and

has sought to engage more with

China, which has promised loans

and investment that will be vital

to his ambitious $180 billion in-

frastructure overhaul.

Supreme Court Associate

Justice Antonio Carpio on Satur-

day urged the government to file

another international arbitration

case over the reported Chinese

threat, and also lodge a com-

plaint with the United Nations.

— Reuters

Newly installed Philippines’ Foreign Secretary Alan Peter Cayetano, right,

delivers a statement during a flag raising at the Department of Foreign

Affairs headquarters in Pasay City, Metro Manila, on Monday.

— Reuters

Four killed in

eastern India

as villagers

protest against

sand mining


Four people were killed and two

injured when dozens of villag-

ers in eastern India clashed with

workers mining sand, police said

on Monday, in the latest such

incident in the growing conflict

over the use of sand in the coun-


Villagers in Jatpura, about 260

km from Jharkhand state capital

Ranchi, were trying to stop work-

ers from lifting sand from a river

bed when they killed one of the

crew, said district police chief

Alok, who goes by one name.

Police are investigating reports

that the contractor in charge had

opened fire first, killing three vil-

lagers, Alok said.

“We have arrested one per-

son from the contractor’s side.

Police have been deployed in the

village to maintain law and or-

der,” he said.

India has a growing demand

for construction materials such

as sand to build roads, airports,

malls and homes.

Despite laws regulating sand

mining in most states, rivers and

beaches are often dredged be-

yond safe levels. Bribing of local

officials and police is common to

mine beyond permissible limits,

campaigners say. Jharkhand in

2015 had banned sand mining in

hundreds of riverbeds and made

environmental clearances man-


— Thomson Reuters


Pakistan’s opposition party to sue

govt for crackdown on supporters


A Pakistani

opposition party led by former

cricketer Imran Khan will take

legal action against the govern-

ment for detaining its vocal on-

line activists under a controver-

sial cybercrime law, a spokesman

said on Monday.

At least 23 supporters of the

Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (Move-

ment for Justice) party have been

detained and threatened with

action under the Prevention of

Electronic Crime Act, Fawad

Hussain Chauhdry, a spokesman

for the party, said.

It is the first time the new law

has been used in a broad crack-

down against political opposi-


Two have been charged un-

der the law, including one for

sharing a satirical picture of

Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif,

and are on bail pending further


“One of our supporters

was abducted from Quetta and

brought to Islamabad in an ar-

mored car. People are being ha-

rassed and it is spreading fear,”

the spokesman said.

He added the party would

sue the government for intimida-

tion and harassment in the Islam-

abad High Court.

In addition to the party activ-

ists, a Pakistani journalist said

he had received an intimidating

phone call from the Federal In-

vestigation Agency last Thursday

and was asked to appear in per-

son to explain his social media


Taha Siddiqui, who won

France’s Albert Londres journal-

ism prize in 2014 for a documen-

Pakistani opposition leader and head of the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf

(PTI) party Imran Khan leaves the Supreme Court after attending a hear-

ing on the Panama Papers case in Islamabad on Monday.


Sri Lanka president switches foreign, finance ministers in Cabinet reshuffle


Sri Lanka’s pres-

ident on Monday removed the

country’s liberal foreign minister

who spearheaded a successful

campaign to extricate the coun-

try from possible international

sanctions over war crime alle-

gations from the country’s long

civil war.

In the first Cabinet reshuf-

fle of the coalition government

since 2015, President Maithripala

Sirisena replaced Mangala Sama-

raweera as foreign minister and

gave him the portfolio of finance

and mass media minister. Ravi

Karunanayake, who headed the

finance ministry, was named the

new foreign minister.

Samaraweera was instrumen-

tal in Sri Lanka’s co-sponsoring

of a resolution at the United Na-

tions Human Rights Council that

called for investigations into the

alleged wartime abuses with in-

ternational assistance. However,

he was accused by nationalists of

paving the way for outside inter-


Sirisena had distanced him-

self from the promise to involve

international judges and pros-

ecutors in a 2015 resolution at the

Human Rights Council and said

that he would not prosecute gov-

ernment soldiers for war crimes.

However, it is unclear if Sa-

maraweera’s removal as foreign

minister is a sign of a government

policy shift toward post-civil war

reforms and reconciliation.

Sri Lanka’s nearly 26-year

civil war ended in 2009 with the

government crushing separatist

ethnic Tamil rebels who fought

to create an independent state

for the country’s largest minority

ethnic group. Sri Lanka’s govern-

ment and military are largely ma-

jority ethnic Sinhalese.

The civil war’s final months

were especially savage, and both

the government forces and Tamil

Tiger separatists are accused of

grave human rights violations

and war crimes. According to a

UN report, some 40,000 Tamil

civilians may have been killed in

the final months of the fighting


Sri Lanka’s former strongman

leader Mahinda Rajapaksa, who

led the military campaign, had

refused to investigate the alle-

gations, resulting in the country

being sidelined internationally.

The UN Human Rights Council

had adopted a resolution calling

for an independent, international

investigation on Sri Lanka.

However, steps taken by

Sirisena’s government and far-

reaching promises since its elec-

tion in 2015 changed Sri Lanka’s

international standing.

Also on Monday, the portfoli-

os of seven other ministers were

swapped and a new minister for

Development Assignments was


— AP

Mangala Samaraweera, left, who has been foreign minister since January

2015 takes an oath as he is sworn in as minister of finance in front of Sri

Lanka’s President Maithripala Sirisena in Colombo on Monday.

— Reuters

4 climbers die near top of

Everest in tragic weekend


The body of

an Indian climber was spotted on

Mount Everest on Monday, the

fourth fatality on the mountain

during a busy and tragic weekend

on the world’s highest peak.

Sherpa rescuers spotted the

body of Indian climber Ravi Ku-

mar, but it was impossible to re-

trieve the body, said Thupden

Sherpa of Arun Treks and Expedi-

tion. It appeared that Kumar had

fallen some 200 meters (650 feet)

below the route, he said.

Climbers from the United

States, Slovakia and Australia also

died on the mountain over the


Kumar fell sick on his way

down from the summit on Sat-

urday and did not make it to

the nearest camp, though his

accompanying Nepalese Sher-

pa guide did reach camp. The

guide was sick but had managed

to drag himself to the camp at

South Col, located at 8,000 me-

ters (26,247 feet). Kumar and his

guide reached the 8,850-meter-

high (29,035-foot-high) summit at

about 1:30 p.m. on Saturday, which

is considered late, and not many

climbers were around when they

were returning back.

Tourism Department official

Kamal Prasad Adhikari confirmed

that American climber Roland

Yearwood, 50, from Georgiana,

Alabama, died Sunday, but it was

not clear if and when his body

would be brought down.

A Slovak climber, Vladimir

Strba, 50, also died on Everest on

Sunday, Tourism Ministry offi-

cial Gyanendra Shrestha said. His

body was brought the South Col


Australian climber Fran-

cesco Enrico Marchetti, 54, from

Queensland, died on the Chinese

side of Everest, according to the

Himalayan Times newspaper.

Other details were not available.


tary he produced for France 2,

said the call amounted to an at-

tempt to intimidate him and he

also planned to sue the govern-


The interior ministry has de-

clined to comment on the cases.

Parliament passed the cyber-

crime law last August, despite

opposition from rights activ-

ists which said its wording was

overly broad and would curb free


Of particular concern was a

clause that empowered the gov-

ernment to ban speech consid-

ered “against the glory of Islam

or the integrity, security or de-

fense of Pakistan.”

Free speech campaigners

have long complained of creep-

ing censorship in the name of

protecting religion or preventing


In January five secular activ-

ists known for their outspoken

views against religious extrem-

ism and the powerful military

disappeared — presumed ab-

ducted by state agencies, accord-

ing to opposition parties and in-

ternational rights groups.

Four of them were returned

to their families weeks later, but

not before they were tarnished

by a virulent campaign to paint

them as enemies of Islam deserv-

ing execution.

One of them later said they

had been held and tortured by

the shadowy Inter Services Intel-

ligence agency.