Iran vows to continue missile work, dismisses EU powers’ U.N. letter

By Parisa Hafezi

DUBAI (Reuters) – Iran on Thursday rejected pressure to shelve its ballistic missile program after a European letter to the U.N. Security Council accused Tehran of developing missiles capable of being delivering nuclear bombs.

The British, German and French ambassadors to the U.N. Security Council, in a letter circulated on Wednesday, called on U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres to inform the Council in his next report that Iran’s missile program was “inconsistent” with a U.N. resolution underpinning the 2015 nuclear deal reached between Iran and six world powers.

Iran responded defiantly, saying it was determined to proceed with its disputed ballistic missile program, which it has repeatedly described as defensive in purpose and nothing to do with its nuclear activity.

“Iran is determined to resolutely continue its activities related to ballistic missiles and space launch vehicles,” Iranian U.N. envoy Majid Takhte Ravanchi said in a letter to Guterres.

Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif had earlier on Thursday denounced the European powers’ intervention.

“Latest E3 letter to UNSG on missiles is a desperate falsehood to cover up their miserable incompetence in fulfilling bare minimum of their own #JCPOA obligations,” Zarif tweeted, referring to the nuclear deal by its formal acronym. He urged Britain, France and Germany not to bow to “U.S. bullying”.

The European letter surfaced at a time of heightened friction between Iran and the West, with Tehran rolling back its commitments under the deal step by step in response to Washington’s pullout from the pact last year and reimposition of sanctions on the Islamic Republic that has crippled its economy.

A 2015 U.N. resolution “called upon” Iran to refrain for up to eight years from work on ballistic missiles that could be capable of delivering nuclear warheads.

Some states – including Russia, which with four other world powers wields a veto on the Security Council – argue that the language does not make it obligatory.

France said on Thursday that Iran’s ballistic missile activities did not conform with the Security Council resolution and called on Tehran to respect all of its obligations under that resolution.

The Security Council is due to meet on Dec. 20 to weight the state of compliance with the resolution underpinning the nuclear deal, and the European letter “will add to that discussion,” a senior European diplomat told Reuters.

Britain, France and Germany have sought to salvage the nuclear pact, under which Iran undertook to curtail its disputed uranium enrichment program in return for relief from sanctions. But Tehran has criticized the three European powers for failing to shield Iran’s economy from the U.S. penalties.

The United States, Iran’s arch foe, and its allies in the Middle East view Tehran’s ballistic missile program as a Middle East security threat.

(Additional reporting by John Irish in Paris and Tuqa Khalid in Dubai; Writing by Parisa Hafezi; Editing by Mark Heinrich)

New app predicts water-related conflict up to year in advance

By Emma Batha

LONDON (Thomson Reuters Foundation) – Conflicts over water are likely to flare up in Iraq, Mali and India in the coming year, according to the developers of an app launched on Thursday which aims to help prevent violence by flagging up potential flashpoints.

They said the “groundbreaking” early warning tool, which has also predicted risks in Iran, Nigeria and Pakistan, could spot the likelihood of conflicts – including water-related violence – up to 12 months in advance.

Climate change, increasing populations, rapid urbanisation, economic growth and expanding agriculture are compounding pressures on the world’s limited water supplies.

U.N. data shows a quarter of the globe is using water faster than natural sources can be replenished.

The tool will enable governments and others, including development and disaster response experts, to intervene early to defuse conflicts, according to the Water, Peace and Security (WPS) partnership which is behind the app.

It said trials suggested an 86% success rate in identifying conflicts with 10 casualties or more.

“This app is very important given the escalation of water-related conflicts across the world,” said Jessica Hartog, a climate change expert with International Alert, a WPS partner.

“It will save lives, absolutely, if we see politicians acting on the early warning data it will provide,” she told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

The WPS Global Early Warning Tool uses machine learning to pinpoint conflict risks on the basis of more than 80 variables going back 20 years.

This includes data on precipitation and droughts from satellite sources, and socio-economic and demographic data on everything from population density to past patterns of violence.

“Water is often an overlooked risk factor in conflict,” said Charles Iceland, a senior water expert at the World Resources Institute, part of the WPS partnership which is supported by the Netherlands’ foreign ministry.

“This could be a breakthrough in development and peacekeeping operations, giving time to intervene before bloodshed occurs.”

The tool has been trialled in Mali where water scarcity is a factor in violence between Dogon farmers and Fulani herders.

“Data is one of the most powerful things you can have to reach policymakers and politicians,” said International Alert’s Hartog.

“In Mali, we’re already bringing the government and civil society groups together to discuss the risks we’re seeing.”

In Iraq, WPS predicted the situation would deteriorate in Basra where access to safe water is a major problem, with more than 120,000 people hospitalised last year after drinking polluted supplies.

(Reporting by Emma Batha @emmabatha; Editing by Katy Migiro. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women’s and LGBT+ rights, human trafficking, property rights, and climate change. Visit http://news.trust.org)

French police fire tear gas at strikers challenging Macron reform

By Sybille de La Hamaide and Marine Pennetier

PARIS (Reuters) – Police fired tear gas at protesters in the center of Paris on Thursday and public transport ground to a near halt in one of the biggest strikes in France for decades, aimed at forcing President Emmanuel Macron to ditch a planned reform of pensions.

The strike pits Macron, a 41-year-old former investment banker who came to power in 2017 on a promise to open up France’s highly regulated economy, against powerful trade unions who say he is set on dismantling worker protections.

The outcome depends on who blinks first – the unions who risk losing public support if the disruption goes on for too long, or the government which fears voters could side with the unions and blame officials for the standoff.

“People can work around it today and tomorrow, but next week people may get annoyed,” said 56-year-old cafe owner Isabelle Guibal.

Rail workers voted to extend their strike through Friday, while labor unions at the Paris bus and metro operator RATP said their walkout would continue until Monday.

Trade unions achieved their initial objective on Thursday, as workers at transport enterprises, schools and hospitals across France joined the strike. In Paris, commuters had to dust off old bicycles, rely on car pooling apps, or just stay at home. The Eiffel Tower had to close to visitors.

On Thursday afternoon, tens of thousands of union members marched through the center of the capital in a show of force.

Trouble erupted away from the main protest when people in masks and dressed in black ransacked a bus stop near the Place de la Republique, ripped up street furniture, smashed shop windows and threw fireworks at police.

Police in riot gear responded by firing tear gas, Reuters witnesses said. Nearby, police used truncheons to defend themselves from black-clad protesters who rushed at them. Prosecutors said, in all, 57 people were detained.

Macron wants to simplify France’s unwieldy pension system, which comprises more than 40 different plans, many with different retirement ages and benefits. Rail workers, mariners and Paris Opera House ballet dancers can retire up to a decade earlier than the average worker.

Macron says the system is unfair and too costly. He wants a single, points-based system under which for each euro contributed, every pensioner has equal rights.

PRESIDENT’S SWAGGER

Macron has already survived one major challenge to his rule, from the grassroots “Yellow Vest” protesters who earlier this year clashed with police and blocked roads around France for weeks on end.

Having emerged from that crisis, he carries himself with a swagger on the world stage, publicly upbraiding U.S. President Donald Trump this week over his approach to the NATO alliance and counter-terrorism.

But the pension reform – on which polls show French people evenly split between supporters and opponents – is fraught with risk for him as it chips away at social protections many in France believe are at the heart of their national identity.

“People are spoiling for a fight,” Christian Grolier, a senior official from the hard-left Force Ouvriere union which is helping organize the strike, told Reuters.

The SNCF state railway said only one in 10 high-speed TGV trains would run and police reported power cables on the line linking Paris and the Riviera had been vandalized. The civil aviation authority asked airlines to cancel 20% of flights because of knock-on effects from the strike.

Past attempts at pension reform have ended badly for the authorities. Former president Jacques Chirac’s conservative government in 1995 caved into union demands after weeks of crippling protests.

(Reporting by Caroline Pailliez, Geert de Clercq, Sybille de La Hamaide, Marine Pennetier, Laurence Frost in paris and Guillaume Frouin in Nantes; Writing by Richard Lough and Christian Lowe; Editing by Gareth Jones)

U.S. says Iran may have killed more than 1,000 in recent protests

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Iranian security forces may have killed more than 1,000 people since protests over gasoline price hikes began in mid-November, U.S. Special Representative for Iran Brian Hook said on Thursday.

“As the truth is trickling out of Iran, it appears the regime could have murdered over a thousand Iranian citizens since the protests began,” Hook told reporters at a briefing at the State Department.

He added that “many thousands of Iranians” had also been wounded and at least 7,000 detained in Iran’s prisons.

The unrest, which began on Nov. 15 after the government abruptly raised fuel prices by as much as 300%, spread to more than 100 cities and towns and turned political as young and working-class protesters demanded clerical leaders step down.

Tehran has given no official death toll but Amnesty International said on Monday it had documented the deaths of at least 208 protesters, making the disturbances the bloodiest since the 1979 Islamic Revolution.

Tehran’s clerical rulers have blamed “thugs” linked to its opponents in exile and the country’s main foreign foes – the United States, Israel and Saudi Arabia – for the unrest.

(Reporting by Humeyra Pamuk; Writing by Mohammad Zargham; Editing by Tom Brown)

China maintains tariffs must be reduced for phase one trade deal with U.S.

China maintains tariffs must be reduced for phase one trade deal with U.S.
BEIJING (Reuters) – Tariffs must be cut if China and the United States are to reach an interim agreement on trade, the Chinese commerce ministry said on Thursday, sticking to its stance that some U.S. tariffs must be rolled back for a phase one deal.

“The Chinese side believes that if the two sides reach a phase one deal, tariffs should be lowered accordingly,” ministry spokesman Gao Feng told reporters, adding that both sides were maintaining close communication.

Completion of a phase one deal between the world’s two biggest economies had been initially expected in November, ahead of a new round of U.S. tariffs set to kick in on Dec. 15, covering about $156 billion of Chinese imports.

Trade delegations on both sides remained locked in discussions over “core issues of concern,” with rising bilateral tensions over non-trade issues such as the protests in Hong Kong and Beijing’s treatment of its Uighur Muslim minority clouding prospects for a near-term deal to end a trade war.

China warned on Wednesday that U.S. legislation calling for a tougher response to Beijing’s treatment of Uighurs in the western Chinese region of Xinjiang will affect bilateral cooperation.

But “there is no need to panic,” as talks did not stop, a Chinese source who advises Beijing on the trade talks told Reuters on Wednesday.

“Both leaders have talked about reaching a deal, and officials are now finishing the work,” said the source, who thought it unlikely China would retaliate against U.S. legislation by releasing its so-called “unreliable entities list” aimed at punishing firms deemed harmful to Chinese interests.

When asked if China would release the list this year, Gao said he had no further information to reveal at present.

Beijing may hold back from publishing the list until the trade situation with the United States is at its most tense, a Chinese government source told Reuters in October.

On Wednesday, Trump said trade talks with China were going “very well,” sounding more positive than his remarks the previous day that a deal might have to wait until after the 2020 U.S. presidential election.

On Nov. 7, Gao said China and the United States must simultaneously cancel some existing tariffs on each other’s goods for both sides to reach a phase one trade deal, but how much tariffs should be canceled could be negotiated.

On a telephone call last week, China’s lead trade negotiator Vice Premier Liu He discussed “core issues of concern” with U.S. Trade representative Robert Lighthizer and U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin.

Washington imposed additional 15% tariffs on about $125 billion worth of Chinese goods on Sept. 1, on top of the additional 25% tariffs levied on an earlier $250 billion list of industrial and consumer goods.

U.S. President Donald Trump and Lighthizer recognize that rolling back tariffs for a pact that fails to tackle core intellectual property and technology transfer issues will not be seen as a good deal for the United States, a person briefed on the matter told Reuters late last month.

(Reporting by Gabriel Crossley and Yawen Chen; Writing by Ryan Woo; Editing by Clarence Fernandez and Jacqueline Wong)

Explainer: How impeachment works and why Trump is unlikely to be removed

By Jan Wolfe

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi on Thursday instructed the House Judiciary Committee to draft articles of impeachment against President Donald Trump for pressuring Ukraine to investigate a political rival.

What happens next and why Trump is unlikely to be removed from office are both explained here.

WHY IMPEACHMENT?

The founders of the United States feared presidents abusing their powers, so they included in the Constitution a process for removing one from office.

The president, under the Constitution, can be removed from office for “Treason, Bribery, or other high Crimes and Misdemeanors.”

High crimes and misdemeanors have historically encompassed corruption and abuses of the public trust, as opposed to indictable violations of criminal statutes.

Former President Gerald Ford, while in Congress, famously said: “An impeachable offense is whatever a majority of the House of Representatives considers it to be at a given moment in history.”

No president has ever been removed as a direct result of impeachment. One, Richard Nixon, resigned before he could be removed. Two, Andrew Johnson and Bill Clinton, were impeached by the House but not convicted by the Senate.

HOW DOES IT WORK?

Impeachment begins in the House, the lower chamber, which debates and votes on whether to bring charges against the president via approval of an impeachment resolution, or “articles of impeachment,” by a simple majority of the body’s members.

The Constitution gives House leaders wide latitude in deciding how to conduct impeachment proceedings, legal experts said.

The House Intelligence Committee has conducted an investigation into whether Trump abused his power to pressure Ukraine to launch investigations that would benefit him politically, holding weeks of closed-door testimony and televised hearings before issuing a formal evidence report.

The Judiciary panel will use the report to consider formal charges that could form the basis of a full House impeachment vote by the end of December.

If the House approves articles of impeachment, a trial is then held in the Senate. House members act as the prosecutors; the senators as jurors; the chief justice of the United States presides. Historically, the president has been allowed to have defense lawyers call witnesses and request documents.

CAN THE SENATE REFUSE TO HOLD A TRIAL?

There is debate about whether the Constitution requires a Senate trial. But Senate rules in effect require a trial, and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has publicly stated that he will allow one to proceed.

Republicans could seek to amend those rules, but such a move is politically risky and considered unlikely, legal experts said.

WHAT ABOUT OPENING A TRIAL AND QUICKLY ENDING IT?

The Senate rules allow members to file, before the conclusion of the trial, motions to dismiss the charges against the president. If such a motion passes by a simple majority the impeachment proceedings effectively end.

Clinton’s Senate impeachment trial, which did not end in a conviction, lasted five weeks. Halfway through the proceedings, a Democratic senator introduced a motion to dismiss, which was voted down.

WHAT’S THE PARTY BREAKDOWN IN CONGRESS?

Democrats control the House. The House comprises 431 members at present, 233 of whom are Democrats. As a result, the Democrats could impeach the Republican Trump with no Republican support.

In 1998, when Republicans had a House majority, the chamber voted largely along party lines to impeach Clinton, a Democrat.

The Senate now has 53 Republicans, 45 Democrats and two independents who usually vote with the Democrats. Conviction and removal of a president would require a two-thirds majority. A conviction seems unlikely. Should all 100 senators vote, at least 20 Republicans and all the Democrats and independents would have to vote against him.

WHO BECOMES PRESIDENT IF TRUMP IS REMOVED?

In the unlikely event the Senate convicted Trump, Vice President Mike Pence would become president for the remainder of Trump’s term, which ends on Jan. 20, 2021.

(Reporting by Jan Wolfe, editing by Ross Colvin and Howard Goller)

North Korea revives ‘dotard’ label in warning to Trump over ‘Rocket Man’ remarks

North Korea revives ‘dotard’ label in warning to Trump over ‘Rocket Man’ remarks
By Josh Smith

SEOUL (Reuters) – U.S. President Donald Trump’s comments on military force and the North’s leader, Kim Jong Un, would represent “a very dangerous challenge” if they were intended to provoke Pyongyang, a top North Korean diplomat said on Thursday.

Trump’s comments threaten to return the two countries to the tensions of two years ago, Choe Son Hui, first vice-minister of Foreign Affairs for North Korea, said in a statement carried by state news agency KCNA.

In 2017 the two leaders famously engaged in a war of words, with Trump calling Kim “Rocket Man” and North Korea slamming the U.S. president, now 73, as a “dotard”.

Since then Trump and Kim have met three times, but negotiations over North Korea’s nuclear weapons and ballistic missile arsenal have stalled amid disagreements and rising tensions.

This year saw a number of short-range ballistic missile launches by North Korea, and Kim has warned that the United States has until the end of the year to change its stance or he could take an unspecified “new path.”

On Tuesday Trump once again called Kim “Rocket Man” and said the United States reserved the right to use military force against North Korea.

“If this is meant to make expressions, reminiscent of those days just two years ago when a war of words was fought across the ocean, surface again on purpose, it will be a very dangerous challenge,” Choe said, arguing that the comments aroused concern and undermined the dignity of North Korea’s leader.

The lack of courtesy shown to Kim had “prompted the waves of hatred of our people against the U.S. and the Americans and they are getting higher and higher”, Choe said.

“It would be fortunate” if Trump’s remarks were simply “an instantaneous verbal lapse, but the matter becomes different if they were a planned provocation that deliberately targeted us”, she said.

North Korea would watch closely to see if Trump repeated the comments, Choe said.

“If any language and expressions stoking the atmosphere of confrontation are used once again on purpose at a crucial moment as now, that must really be diagnosed as the relapse of the dotage of a dotard,” she concluded.

Trump said on Tuesday he still had confidence in the North Korean leader but noted that Kim “likes sending rockets up”.

“…That’s why I call him Rocket Man,” Trump told reporters at a NATO meeting in London.

Trump added that Washington could use military force. “If we have to, we’ll do it.”

On Wednesday, North Korea’s army chief said he was disappointed by Trump’s suggestion of using military force against Pyongyang, and warned that any strike would meet “prompt corresponding actions”.

(Reporting by Josh Smith, Ju-min Park and Jack Kim; Editing by Giles Elgood)

U.S. charges two Russians in international hacking, malware conspiracy

U.S. charges two Russians in international hacking, malware conspiracy
By Jonathan Stempel and Raphael Satter

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Two Russian residents have been criminally charged in the United States over an alleged multi-year, international scheme to steal money and property by using malware to hack into computers, according to an indictment made public on Thursday.

Maksim Yakubets was accused of being the leader of a group of conspirators involved with Bugat malware and botnet, while his close associate Igor Turashev allegedly handled various functions for the conspiracy, the indictment said.

The indictment identifies Yakubets as one of the earliest users of a family of malicious software tools called Bugat — better known as Dridex — which has been bedeviling American banks and businesses for more than eight years.

Cybersecurity experts say the malware, which first appeared in late 2011, is responsible for millions of dollars in damages worldwide. Experts have long speculated that the malware is the brainchild of a Russian hacking group.

The conspiracy allegedly began around November 2011, and several entities – including a school, an oil firm, First Commmonwealth Bank – were among the defendants’ victims, according to the indictment filed with the federal court in Pittsburgh. Two of the transactions were processed through Citibank in New York, the indictment says.

The indictment is dated Nov. 12 but was unsealed on Thursday.

U.S. and British authorities are expected later Thursday to detail charges against a Russian national over allegations of computer hacking and bank fraud schemes, according to a U.S. Department of Justice statement.

That announcement characterized the Russian national as being “allegedly responsible for two of the worst computer hacking and bank fraud schemes of the past decade.”

Malware is a software program designed to gather sensitive information, such as passwords and bank account numbers, from private computers by installing viruses and other malicious programs.

Spokespeople for First Commonwealth Bank and Citibank did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

(Reporting by Susan Heavy, Lisa Lambert and Jonathan Stempel; additional reporting by Raphael Satter Editing by Steve Orlofsky and Nick Zieminski)

U.S. Navy sailor shoots dead two, then himself, at Pearl Harbor base

American Flag - VOTE

By Dan Whitcomb

(Reuters) – A U.S. Navy sailor shot dead two civilians working at Hawaii’s historic military base of Pearl Harbor on Wednesday and wounded a third before turning his gun on himself, military officials said.

Authorities did not identify the victims or the gunman, described by a witness as wearing a U.S. Navy uniform, but local media reported they were all men. Base officials said the victims were civilians working for the Department of Defense.

It was not immediately clear what the gunman’s motive was for the shooting, three days before the 78th anniversary of the Dec. 7, 1941 attack on the naval base that led the United States to declare war on Japan and enter World War Two.

The gunman died of “an apparent self-inflicted gunshot wound”, and the third victim was in stable condition in hospital, military officials told a news briefing.

“We have confirmed that two (victims) are deceased,” said the regional commander, Rear Admiral Robert Chadwick.

The gunman “has tentatively been identified as an active-duty sailor assigned to USS Columbia SSN 771,” he said.

The base, a combined U.S. Air Force and Navy installation located eight miles (13 km) from the state capital of Honolulu, was placed on lockdown for about two hours after the incident at about 2:30 p.m. Hawaii Standard Time.

“We have no indication yet whether they (the victims) were targeted or if it was a random shooting,” Chadwick said.

He said he also did not know the type of weapon used by the attacker and that bringing personal weapons on the base was not authorized.

Emergency services sent ambulances and firefighters to the scene, which was secured by late Wednesday and the base reopened.

An unidentified witness told Hawaii News Now he had heard gunfire near Drydock 2 of the base and looked up from his desk to see the gunman, wearing an U.S. Navy uniform, put the weapon to his head and shoot himself.

“Details are still emerging as security forces at Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam investigate,” Hawaii Governor David Ige said, using the official name of the base.

The White House had offered him assistance from federal agencies as needed, Ige said.

A White House spokesman said: “The president has been briefed on the shooting…and continues to monitor the situation.”

Hawaii police detectives are assisting the military in an investigation that could require up to 100 witnesses to be interviewed, local media said.

(Reporting by Dan Whitcomb; Additional reporting by Kanishka Singh in Bengaluru, Steve Gorman in Culver City, Jeff Mason in Washington, D.C. and Rich McKay in Atlanta; Editing by Stephen Coates, Clarence Fernandez and Timothy Heritage)

New evacuation order for Texas city hit by explosion, chemical fire

FILE PHOTO: A process tower flies through air after exploding at the TPC Group Petrochemical Plant, after an earlier massive explosion sparked a blaze at the plant in Port Neches, Texas, U.S., November 27, 2019. REUTERS/Erwin Seba/File Photo

New evacuation order for Texas city hit by explosion, chemical fire
HOUSTON (Reuters) – Authorities have issued a second evacuation order in a week for residents of a city in the U.S. state of Texas after an explosion and fire at a petrochemical plant.

Officials issued the order late on Wednesday in Port Neches after air monitors detected elevated levels of a cancer-causing petrochemical produced at the TPC Group facility that was struck by the blaze and blast.

The fire at the 218-acre (88-hectare) plant, which was put out on Tuesday after burning for six days, had earlier prompted the evacuation of about 60,000 residents from several cities in southeast Texas.

Air monitors on Wednesday posted elevated levels of butadiene, a cancer-causing chemical. The plant makes flammable chemicals used in the production of synthetic rubber and a gasoline additive.

Schools were closed for the rest of the week, officials said. Schools in Port Neches and nearby Groves had reopened on Tuesday.

TPC Group did not immediately respond to requests for information on the butadiene emissions.

The latest evacuation, issued by the City of Port Neches and Jefferson County Judge Branick, replaced a shelter-in-place ordered earlier on Wednesday.

Elevated butadiene levels had been measured in some parts of the city and could cause dizziness, nausea, headaches, irritated eyes and throat, the statement said. They did not pose a serious health risk, or a flammability or explosion risk, it said.

A local temporary shelter for residents was re-established, the statement added.

TPC Group’s Port Neches plant suffered a fire after an explosion on Nov. 27 that injured three workers. Officials have not determined the cause of the explosion and fire, which began in a butadiene processing unit.

(Reporting by Erwin Seba and Sumita Layek; Editing by Richard Pullin and Timothy Heritage)