2 Aug 2019

Friday's world news: What's making the headlines

6:59 pm on 2 August 2019

UK Conservative loss in by-election, parliamentary majority just one

Britain's pro-European Union Liberal Democrats have won the Welsh seat of Brecon and Radnorshire with a majority of 1425 votes in a blow to Prime Minister Boris Johnson and his Conservatives in his first electoral test since taking office.

The loss reduces Mr Johnson's working majority in parliament to just one ahead of an expected showdown with lawmakers next month over his Brexit plans to take Britain out of the European Union on 31 October - without an exit agreement if necessary.

Mr Johnson's government already relies on the support of a small Northern Irish party for its wafer-thin majority, and just a handful of his own Conservatives need to rebel to impede progress on government bills.

Britain's Prime Minister Boris Johnson (L), accompanied by Britain's Home Secretary Priti Patel, speaks at the first meeting of the National Policing Board at the Home Office in London, on July 31, 2019. (Photo by Kirsty Wigglesworth / POOL / AFP)

Photo: AFP

Wales, and the Brecon area, voted to leave the EU at the 2016 Brexit referendum, but it is also a region where sheep outnumber people and where the prospect of steep EU tariffs being slapped on Welsh lamb exports in a no-deal Brexit have prompted widespread concern among farmers.

The Brecon vote was triggered when Conservative lawmaker Chris Davies was ousted by a petition of constituents after being convicted of falsifying expenses. Liberal Democrat candidate Jane Dodds won with 13,826 votes.

Davies, who ran again for the Conservatives, came second with 12,401 votes.

- Reuters

Read more:

  • Brecon and Radnorshire by-election: Lib Dems beat Conservatives
  • Japan removes South Korea from favoured trading list

    Japan today said it would remove South Korea's fast-track export status, drawing the threat of a firm response from Seoul and further straining relations already stressed by a dispute over compensation for wartime forced labourers.

    South Korea will become the first country to be removed from Japan's "white list" of fast-track export destinations when the decision, approved by Japan's cabinet on Friday, goes into effect at the end of this month.

    The measure could require Japanese exporters to South Korea to take extra administrative procedures to obtain export permits, potentially slowing down exports of a wide range of goods that could be used to produce weapons.

    Industry Minister Hiroshige Seko told a briefing after the cabinet meeting that the decision was taken for national security reasons, and was not intended to harm bilateral relations.

    South Korean officials had a different perspective, especially as Japan last tightened curbs on exports to South Korea of three high-tech materials needed to make memory chips and display panels, threatening the global supply of chips.

    The announcement has only added to anti-Japan feeling in South Korea, where widespread boycotts of Japanese goods have been running.

    - Reuters

    Saudi lifts travel controls on women

    21293717 - woman in a burqa on the streets of egypt

    Photo: 123RF

    Saudi Arabia will allow adult women to travel without permission and has granted them more control over family matters, further eroding a heavily criticized male guardianship system at a time of heightened scrutiny over its human rights record.

    A series of royal decrees published by the official gazette on Friday stipulated that a Saudi passport should be issued to any citizen who applies for it and that any person above the age of 21 does not need permission to travel.

    The amendments to regulations also grant women for the first time the right to register child birth, marriage or divorce and to be issued official family documents and be eligible as a guardian to children who are minors.

    Riyadh has long endured international censure over the status of women, who rights groups say are often treated as second-class citizens under rules requiring them to get the consent of a male guardian for important decisions throughout their entire lives, regardless of age.

    - Reuters

    Read more:

  • Saudi lifts some restrictions on women
  • US about to pull out of weapons treaty

    The United States will no longer be prohibited from having ground-launched intermediate-range missiles once it pulls out of an arms control treaty with Russia, but funds to test and develop the missiles may soon run out, officials say.

    A soldier guards the Russian 9M729 missile during its demonstration to foreign military attache after Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty (INF) briefing in the Patriot military park, outside Moscow, Russia.

    A soldier guards the Russian 9M729 missile during its demonstration to foreign military attache after Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty (INF) briefing in the Patriot military park, outside Moscow, Russia Photo: Vladimir Astapkovich / Sputnik via AFP

    Washington said last year it would be withdrawing from the Intermediate-range Nuclear Forces Treaty (INF), accusing Russia of failing to comply with it. Moscow denied it had violated the treaty and said Washington was pulling out because it wanted to pursue a new arms race.

    Within the next few weeks, the US is expected to test a ground-launched cruise missile. In November, the Pentagon will aim to test an intermediate-range ballistic missile. Both would be conventional weapons tests - and not nuclear.

    Unlike in the Senate, which is led by US President Donald Trump's Republicans, the House declined to fund the administration's request of about $96 million for the development of the missiles in its version of a fiscal-year 2020 budget and defense policy bill.

    The 1987 pact banned ground-launched nuclear and conventional ground-launched ballistic and cruise missiles with ranges of 500km to 5500km.

    Washington and Moscow blamed each other for the breakdown of the treaty, the latest in a growing list of East-West tensions. The United States said it needed to develop its own intermediate-range missiles to deter Russia, even if it did not field them in Europe.

    Defense Secretary Mark Esper said last month that leaving the INF treaty would free up the US military "to deal with not just Russia, but China".

    "China has a very, very capable and robust INF Treaty-range missile inventory, if you will. So you can see, it frees us up to do other things," he said.

    - Reuters

    Read more:

  • INF nuclear treaty: US pulls out of Cold War-era pact with Russia
  • Trump amps up trade war with China

    US President Donald Trump.

    US President Donald Trump. Photo: AFP

    Mr Trump has said he will impose a fresh 10 percent tariff on another $300bn of Chinese goods, in a sharp escalation of a trade war between the two countries.

    It came after the latest round of bilateral talks showed little sign of a breakthrough.

    The new tariffs, due to take effect on 1 September, effectively tax all Chinese imports to the US.

    The duty is likely to target a wide range of goods, from smartphones to clothing.

    China's Foreign Minister Wang Yi criticised the US move.

    "Adding tariffs is definitely not a constructive way to resolve economic and trade frictions, it's not the correct way," Mr Wang said on the sidelines of a meeting of South East Asian ministers in Bangkok.

    Mr Trump announced the tariff plan on Twitter, while taking aim at China for not honouring promises to buy more US agricultural products at this week's negotiations in Shanghai.

    - BBC

    Read more:

  • Donald Trump imposing more tariffs on Chinese goods
  • Four people wounded in Bangkok bomb blasts

    Six bomb blasts have wounded at least four people at three sites in Bangkok, as the Thai capital hosts a Southeast Asian security meeting with top diplomats from the United States, China and other world powers.

    The first small explosions were heard during rush hour, just before 9am on Friday at two sites near central Bangkok.

    A third blast was heard shortly afterwards at a government complex hosting several ministries on the northern side of the city.

    The Erawan Medical Centre said four people were wounded, but "none are serious and all are receiving medical attention at hospitals".

    Three of those hurt were women cleaning the street when a bomb went off. Pictures on local websites showed them looking dazed and getting treatment from medics. One was seen being loaded into an ambulance.

    The other casualty was from a device that exploded near the 77-storey King Power Mahanakhon building, one of the tallest in the city. Police Colonel Kamtorn Uicharoen told Reuters a total of six bombs exploded. One was recovered before it blew up. There was no immediate claim of responsibility.

    Bangkok is currently hosting a regional security meeting of foreign ministers from the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) and their counterparts from world powers including the United States, China and Russia. None of the Friday blasts were very close to the meeting venue.

    - Reuters